The Edge of Heaven ★★★½


[Originally published on]

Like his previous dramatic feature, the Berlin prizewinner Head-On, Fatih Akin's The Edge of Heaven explores the increasingly porous borders between East and West, shuttling characters back and forth between Hamburg and Istanbul and observing their rootless confusion. Akin divides the film into three chapters, two of which sport titles that announce the impending death of a major character—a structural device that lends even ostensibly mundane scenes a certain uneasy tension. Part One focuses on a cantankerous Turkish émigré (Tuncel Kurtiz) and the hooker (also Turkish) he hires to be his live-in girlfriend (Nursel Köse), to the consternation of his bookish son (Baki Davrak); Part Two follows the hooker's daughter (Nurgül Yesilçay), a student radical in Istanbul who hightails it to Germany following a demonstration gone wrong and falls into a relationship with a young woman (Patrycia Ziolkowska) she hits up for spare change, to the consternation of the woman's stern mother (Fassbinder vet Hanna Schygulla, the only recognizable cast member for most Americans). Part Three shifts the focus again in ways better left unrevealed.

Those expecting the punkish, masochistic energy of Head-On, with its car-crashing and wrist-cutting and club-hopping, may be a bit surprised by this new film's more measured and contemplative tone. All the same, Akin's keen intelligence, his sensitivity to cultural dislocation and his skill with actors are all still very much in evidence. Scene by scene, The Edge of Heaven (which sounds like a Majid Majidi film; the German title translates as From the Other Side) is an assured and disarmingly inquisitive picture, creating a mosaic of unsettled lives in which the pieces never fit quite where you expect them to. What keeps it from being more than just "solid" is Akin's unfortunate reliance on what I'll call Stupid Writer Tricks — implausible coincidences, chance almost-meetings between characters who don't realize their hidden connection, etc. If someone spends the entire movie plastering HAVE YOU SEEN HER? posters all over town, you can be sure he'll take the last one down just before Someone Who's Seen Her walks in the door, at which point the camera will even pan over to the empty space where the poster used to be. In another kind of movie, that might not be a big deal; in one that's otherwise so scrupulously naturalistic, it feels, well, a little cheap. Fortunately, the ending, with its touching air of forgiveness, will have you in a generous frame of mind.