Thomas Wolfe wrote, "You can't go home again," but the new film from Fatih Akin explores a number of ways one can. The Edge of Heaven, now emerging from the festival circuit into a theatrical run, is another fine work from Turkish writer-director Akin, a rising star in international cinema. And though he again deals with Turkey and its neighbors with cultural and political specificity (as in Head-On and the music doc Crossing the Bridge—The Sound of Istanbul), American audiences can also find universal human experience writ delicately.
The story is a complicated and surprising one that both defies and discourages synopsis. It begins in Germany, with a lonely retired widower named Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) walking into a local brothel and making an offer to the madam, Yeter (Nursel Kose). He'll pay her on a monthly basis to live with him in exchange for a monthly stipend. Ali’s son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a university professor, soon bears witness to this unusual arrangement, and takes it upon himself to clean up the mess when it spectacularly fails. With father and son estranged, Nejat travels to Istanbul in a sort of restitution to Yeter.
Meanwhile, Yeter’s daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilçay) moves the other direction, to Germany, to elude the Turkish police. A political activist, she gets the romantic attention of German student Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), who takes Ayten in to live with her and her skeptical mother Susanne (legendary German actress Hanna Schygulla). Family bonds continue to fray and break, but as the story develops, new connections continue to be made, and hope springs eternal of going home again—to one's country of origin and to one's parents, from whom they have rebelled (in the case of Susanne, she must return to her daughter's graces by an unusual path).
Akin has always been fascinated by borders, and their worth (positively defining culture) and harms (in conflict) in an increasingly "globalized" world. Cultural crossover infuses the story—set against Turkey's candidacy to join the European Union—at every turn, like a Turkish professor living in Germany considering the purchase of a German bookshop in Turkey. The ultimate border—between life and death—informs the film's more personal stories of how we spend the limited time we have with others: fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and lovers. The improbable story may be schematic, but satisfyingly so, and it moves with pleasing unpredictability. It's also an Akin hallmark to elicit full-blooded performances, and again The Edge of Heaven doesn't disappoint