Near the beginning of Fatih Akin's captivating "The Edge of Heaven," a lonely widower (Tuncel Kurtiz) trolls Bremen, Germany's red-light district before settling on a middle-aged prostitute called Jessie (Nursel Kose). Kurtiz's Ali is Turkish but raised his now-grown son in Germany. Jessie, whose real name is Yeter, has a college-aged daughter back home in Istanbul to whom she sends money for school. Both are alone and alienated from their children. After learning that Yeter is Turkish, Ali proposes an arrangement he thinks will suit them -- he'll pay her what she makes at the brothel if she'll come live with him.
"The Edge of Heaven," which won best screenplay at Cannes in 2007, is Akin's fifth film and fourth fictional feature, after the breathtaking "Head-On" (2004), which won the Berlin Film Festival's Golden Bear among other prizes. Like "Head-On," the characters in "The Edge of Heaven" are German-Turkish hybrids suffering from self-imposed exile and first-generation estrangement. Ali's son Nejat (Baki Davrak), who teaches German at the university in Hamburg, initially finds the arrangement between Yeter and his father distasteful, but he quickly warms to Yeter, who tells him she wants her daughter to be like him. When Yeter suddenly dies (and this is not giving anything away), Nejat goes looking for Yeter's daughter in Istanbul, where he eventually trades lives with the owner of a German bookshop.
"The Edge of Heaven" is bisected into two parts, a portion of which play out simultaneously unbeknownst to the characters. Each announces the death of a major character before the character is even introduced. Rather than kill the suspense, this technique casts an almost unbearable tension and sadness over the stories, both of which begin on a note of rueful hopefulness.
Yeter's daughter Ayten (Nurgul Yesilcay), involved with a violent political activist at home, escapes the police and comes to Germany to look for her mother, whom she believes works in a shoe store. She meets Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), an idealistic and equally lost young German who instantly sees in the tough, sullen Ayten a symbol, a lover and a cause. Lotte's mother, Suzanne (Hanna Schygulla), senses trouble as soon as she meets Ayten, but Lotte reminds her that she was given to the same sorts of passions and extremes when she was young.
A story about generational expectations and cultural shifts, "The Edge of Heaven" raises questions it can't answer, which makes it only more powerful. Shot in Bremen, Istanbul and a small coastal Turkish town, it's a beautiful, unexpectedly enrapturing story about a world in transition and both the closeness and unbridgeable divide between generations and cultures.
"The Edge of Heaven." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 56 minutes. In German, Turkish and English with English subtitles. In limited release.