Fatih Akin was born in Germany of Turkish parents, and has spent his life as a filmmaker shuttling between the two countries. In Akin's movies, cultural borders prove porous, rather than impenetrable. He offered a transcontinental rom-com comparable to The Sure Thing with In July, but plays for higher stakes with The Edge of Heaven, which won the Best Screenplay award at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
In Bremen, Germany, a feisty Turkish retiree (Tuncel Kurtiz) forms a relationship with an aging prostitute (Nursel Köse) after finding out she's a fellow Turk living on the down-low. Thanks to the caprices of fate, his son, a college professor (Baki Davrak), ends up traveling to Turkey to track down the prostitute's long-lost daughter. Ironically, the daughter (Nurgül Yesilçay), a political agitator turned fugitive, has fled to Germany in the meantime. Through Akin's camera, neighborhoods in both countries bustle with life.
When characters cross paths within hours or even inches of each other, you can't help but notice Akin's hand as the screenwriter. You excuse the occasional contrivances because the characters prove so fully formed and surprising. Plot points involve violence and cruelty – more than once we see coffins being transported at a Turkish airport – but Akin avoids condemning characters as merely evil. They simply suffer from bad choices and tragic accidents.
With first-rate performances across the board, including Hanna Schygulla and Patrycia Ziolkowska as another parent-child pair, Edge of Heaven becomes undeniably engrossing as we wonder how the plot will twist and the characters will reveal themselves. Despite its sorrowful dimensions, Edge of Heaven offers an optimistic worldview that hinges on notions of repentance and forgiveness. The film acknowledges the element of coercion that can drive repentance, particularly when Muslim bullies threaten the prostitute unless she repents her profession. Forgiveness proves more difficult and more precious, and turns out to be a virtue that won't stop at the border.