Fatih Akin, whose Head-On (2004) is one of the great films of the decade, returns to scour the same vexed ground of exile and migration in The Edge of Heaven. His obsession with the relationship between Germany and Turkey (his roots lie in both) is becoming as intense as Sam Peckinpah's with the US and Mexico, only with less blood and whisky.
Like Head-On, this plays out a love story that crosses and recrosses the divide between two countries still coming to terms with their reactionary nationalist identities. Two separate but mirrored plots are set in motion when an old lecher named Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) invites a prostitute, Yeter (Nursel Kose), to move in to his Bremen home. When his son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a university lecturer in Hamburg, comes to stay, Ali suspects him of messing around with Yeter and, in a fit of rage, he accidentally kills her.
With the old man in prison, Nejat goes off to find Yeter's daughter Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), estranged from her mother for years. The film then puts this story on hold and takes up with Ayten, a student revolutionary in Istanbul who escapes from the authorities by crossing into Germany, where she begins searching for her mother (she believes she works in a shoe shop) in Hamburg. Here she meets Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), who invites her to stay at her mother's place.
It sounds more complicated than it plays. Writer-director Akin juggles with different kinds of conflict – familial, political, religious – yet forbears to make the kind of judgments one might expect. On religion, for example, it is never clear-cut about its place in society, so while two Muslim men harass a woman on a bus for "immoral" behaviour, a later scene shows, almost reverently, men walking to the mosque.
In casting Hanna Schygulla, one of Fassbinder's favourites, as Lotte's mother, one anticipates a corresponding line on the sick soul of modern Germany, yet Akin steers the mood deliberately towards forgiveness and reconciliation.