In the red-light district of Bremen, Germany, a lonely and grizzled old widower (Tuncel Kurtiz) enters a prostitute’s den. He is Turkish, but has lived in Germany for decades. The hooker (Nursel Köse), saucy but cordial in a blond wig and vinyl skirt, is a Turk as well, and she recognizes a fellow immigrant — that is, another creature of quietly split cultural identity. Before long, he makes her an offer at once compassionate and desperate: to come live with him, so that he can be her one and only client.
From its opening moments, The Edge of Heaven, a stirring drama of frayed nationality and hungry connection, lets us know that there’s nothing soft or pious about it. The writer-director Fatih Akin, who won acclaim for his tumultuous 2005 drama Head-On, has structured the movie so that our identification keeps shifting, as if the characters were passing a baton from one to the next. There’s the old man and his professor son (Baki Davrak); the hooker and her distant, estranged daughter (Nurgül Yesilay) — a radical pro-democracy activist in Turkey who escapes the government police and comes to Bremen to reconnect. There’s the leftist coed (Patrycia Ziolkowska) she falls in love with, and the student’s snobbish yet devoted mother, played by Fassbinder legend Hanna Schygulla with a relaxed inner light that seems to melt away her age as she undergoes a startling leap of faith.
That old man’s relationship with the hooker doesn’t last, but it’s the texture of the unraveling that holds us; that’s true of the entire movie. In The Edge of Heaven, the world is unraveling — or, at least, the old ways are, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The film progresses with some of the chain-of-fate coincidence that marked Babel, only Akin, staying true to his idiosyncratic heritage, unfolds his story on a far more intimate scale — it’s Babel minus the globe-trotting grandiloquence. Hopping from Germany to Turkey and back again, Akin is out to capture the ways that a globalized world can tear up our hearts, and repair them, too. A-