Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Proposition 8 and "Lotte's Death"

Originally published at SpoutBlog:

Proposition 8 and “Lotte’s Death”

Even as the champagne was still flowing across the nation in celebration of Barack Obama’s historic victory, protests were raging in California after Proposition 8, defining marriage as an institution between a man and a woman, passed with nary a hitch. By chance this was also the week I finally got around to watching Fatih Akin’s stunning follow-up to his rightly lauded “Head-On,” “The Edge of Heaven,” recently released on DVD. It’s hard to believe Akin, the biggest talent to come out of German cinema since Fassbinder, is only 35 years old. Indeed, the depth of the script, the subtlety of the Turkish score, the nuanced camerawork and self-assured editing are that of a master director. As is the poignancy with which Akin invests the breathtaking lesbian love story, which both connects the first and last parts of his international trilogy, and is the beating heart of the film. If those same-sex marriage advocates are ever in need of a cautionary tale that could serve as a Prop 8 teaching tool, “Lotte’s Death” (as part two is titled) is it.

As strong and sexy as the star-crossed straight lovers in “Head-On,” blond, pixie hipster Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) and Turkish hot tamale Ayten (Nurgül Yesilçay) meet sweet outside the university where Lotte studies – and to which Ayten covertly has escaped after fleeing her country and inevitable arrest for political terrorist activities. The down on her luck Ayten fidgets as she walks up and asks Lotte for money to buy food. Confident Lotte doesn’t have change yet can’t seem to let Ayten go, offers to get change inside, prompting me to ponder, “Hmm, is she trying to pick her up?” Of course, had this been a boy-meets-girl moment there would have been no doubt in my mind. (This is how ingrained the straight POV is – even within non-hetero audiences!) It’s crystal clear that aggressive Lotte is lusting for Ayten – and yet this instant of uncertainty speaks volumes to an often unacknowledged, subconscious bias.

Yes Lotte, mesmerized by the brunette beauty, buys Ayten lunch, which she wolfs down. Later she takes her to a club where they dance and sweat, steamily share a joint as Akin’s lens respectfully caresses them in slow motion, then make out like it’s their last night on earth. The chemistry between the two is so magnetic that it’s no wonder that Ayten immediately moves in (under the disapproving gaze of Lotte’s mom Susanne played by Fassbinder muse Hanna Schygulla). Susanne knows by the loving look in her daughter’s eyes that she isn’t just taking pity on a political refugee. She wants this femme fatale from Istanbul for her wife.

Of course this can never be. Separated by nationality, the two find themselves also unable to navigate the government system because of their sexuality once Ayten gets arrested in Germany. As Lotte accompanies Ayten to the room where she’ll be living while awaiting an asylum hearing, the sympathetic official who escorts them tells Lotte she can stay three nights a month. He knows they’re lovers though the truth remains unspoken. After Ayten loses her appeal and is sent back to Turkey Lotte follows and slams head on into the closed doors of bureaucracy. When Lotte learns she can’t see the imprisoned Ayten because they don’t share the same surname she bursts into uncontrollable tears. The Turkish official, feeling sorry for her, offers to try to get special permission. He knows by the intensity of Lotte’s outburst that Ayten is not merely a good friend. And yet, neither woman is allowed to declare her love like heterosexual characters most certainly would have. Lotte and Ayten don’t get lines like, “But this is my wife – I’m entitled to see her!”

And here through the illuminating lens of fiction we get a glimpse into the darkest fears of homosexual couples. Lotte and Ayten, though the exact opposite of poster children for the same-sex marriage movement – a young, hot-blooded couple in trouble with the law who don’t always play it safe – aren’t allowed even the basic rights afforded a badass heterosexual couple in their shoes. For Lotte and Ayten, sharing a surname isn’t an ideological exercise. It’s the difference between life and death.

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