Fatih Akin's 2003 feature Head-On was about a marriage of convenience, and his 2005 documentary Crossing The Bridge covered Istanbul's diverse music scene, but both were really about how the increasingly intermingled Turkish and German cultures try to heal their schisms through contrivance—whether by blending musical genres, finding loopholes in the law, or submitting to the will of the European Union. Now in The Edge Of Heaven, the writer-director returns to the idea of people trying to will their way to happiness. As the movie opens, elderly gambler Tuncel Kurtiz meets middle-aged prostitute and fellow Turk Nursel Köse in Bremen's red-light district, and offers to pay her to be his, exclusively. Köse agrees, then dies suddenly, leaving Kurtiz's son Baki Davrak to locate Köse's grown daughter Nurgül Yesilçay back in Istanbul. Davrak quits his job as a German professor and buys a German bookstore in Turkey, unaware that Yesilçay is actually in Hamburg, at his old university, having a lesbian affair with sweet-natured student Patrycia Ziolkowska. When Yesilçay gets arrested and deported for her participation in violent political protests, the web that connects these characters tightens.
Akin divides The Edge Of Heaven into thirds, and ends the first two sections with emotionally devastating scenes of violence, before easing into a third section that deals with the repercussions and lessons learned. The Edge Of Heaven's final part is less spectacular by design, and feels a little forced at times, but Akin's multigenerational cast helps give the story a touching sense of perspective. Aside from the timid Davrak, The Edge Of Heaven's key character is Ziolkowska's mother (Hanna Schygulla), who's disappointed by seemingly every choice her daughter makes. The more she struggles to understand how Ziolkowska could veer away from the smooth path laid out for her, the more she sees the similarities to her own life. By the end of the story, as Schygulla reminisces about backpacking though India, she begins to realize that young people will always need their own fruitless crusades. And thus another gulf gets smaller.