The German-born Turkish writer-director Fatih Akin—whose "Head On" was No. 1 on my 2006 top 10 list—dramatizes the clash of Eastern and Western cultures as well as any filmmaker working today. His dual perspective as both a Turk and a European informs every riveting scene in "The Edge of Heaven," an ambitious chronicle of the intertwined fates of six people—two of them German, four Turkish, and all of them caught up in amorous and political currents they're unable to control.
In the first section we meet the doomed Yeter, a sturdy, hard-working Turkish prostitute in Bremen, where she encounters the much older Ali, also an immigrant from her homeland. Ali, smitten, offers his home to her, if she'll only work for him—an offer that becomes all the more attractive after she's threatened by fundamentalist thugs who disapprove of her livelihood. We also meet Ali's intellectual son Nejat, a university professor whose squeamishness about his father's adventure is replaced by genuine fondness for Yeter, a woman who sends most of her earnings back to her 27-year-old daughter in Turkey.
This daughter, Ayten, who's deeply involved in radical politics, takes center stage in the second part of Akin's structurally complex, emotionally stunning film. Nejat will go to Turkey to look for her, after the death of Yeter. What he doesn't know is that, wanted by the police, she's fled to Germany, where she's taken in by a passionate young German girl, Lotte, who falls in love with her.
There is much more to come, but the less said the better. "The Edge of Heaven"'s intricate, almost melodramatic plot shamelessly employs coincidences—much the way "Babel" did—but where that movie's tragic events seemed gratuitous and strained, Akin has a richer, deeper sense of character, which makes it easier to forgive the movie's sometimes overly schematic design. Perhaps the director tries to do too much in this movie. He's taking on all the major issues of the day, from immigration to terrorism to fundamentalism. But scene by scene he creates such a compelling vision you're happy to follow him wherever he takes you.
There is only one actor with whom American audiences will likely be familiar: Hanna Schygulla, one of Fassbinder's favorites. Here she plays Lotte's mother Suzanne, a woman who disapproves of her daughter's relationship with this mysterious Turkish fugitive. At first we're inclined to write off Suzanne as a stuffy, bourgeois German, an easy foil for her more politically adventurous daughter, but no one in Akin's deeply compassionate movie is merely one-dimensional. Suzanne, a child of the '60s, grows before our eyes, and Schygulla's heartbreaking performance—like the movie itself—will stay with you long after the film's quietly devastating final frame.