The Edge of Heaven is a fine, too little seen, film from Turkey and Germany, a tale of sorrow and repentance, love and forgiveness, across borders and cultures, wrapped up in a slightly twisting plot, with enough mystery and violence to keep the sadness of the characters from slowing the film to a Bergmanian pace. The DVD was released after a small theatrical roll-out in 2008 following its award at Cannes for Best Screenplay in 2007.

I don’t recall what led me to track it down and have Netflix send it. I knew nothing of the director nor the actors, little of Germany and less of Istanbul. To be frank, it didn’t start off well for me. Within minutes, an elderly man has made his choice of several window-sitting prostitutes and is getting a blow job; no shy shadows or averted camera eye. A purely functional exchange. We aren’t sure where they are, or what language they are speaking though we get the idea they are both Turks in Germany. The prostitute seems to speak German well enough to not immediately give away her origins to the old man.

The story begins to build as Ali makes his second visit and makes known his real need — an abiding companion. With pure nonchalance he outlines the deal: you get paid as much as you are making now; you live with me and sleep with no other. After she is threatened by two fundamentalist Muslim young men for disgracing her religion and her country and to avoid implicit violence she “repents” –a word and emotion we will encounter often– she takes the old man up on his offer. She moves in. We see Ali’s son, Nejat, lecturing on Goethe at the University and so the dissonance of the separation and convergence of two cultures, German and Turkish, which we will be reminded of again, begins. He is initially appalled at his father’s choice though as he begins to know her acceptance grows. He finds she has been sending money to her daughter, Ayten, in Istanbul so she can attend University. She has been lying to her daughter that the money is coming from her job as a shoe saleswoman.

The new relationship ends badly with the old man in jail, the mistress dead and Nejat setting out to Istanbul to try to track down the daughter and make amends for her mother’s death. The second thread of the story’s stichery is picked up in Istanbul were we see the young woman, involved in anti-government actions and fleeing, as it happens, to Bremen where she thinks she will find her mother, and from which Nejat has departed to look for her.

In Germany Ayten, homeless and broke, is taken in by a blond, German student, Lotte, and soon the two are passionately in love — in Lotte’s mother’s home, Susanne, who is not happy with the distraction from serious studies her daughter has fallen into. The visuals of the two young women, one dark the other pale and blond strikingly reaffirms “the other” as the film’s original title conveyed; their love, in visuals, shows the transcendence, however fleeting, of this otherness.

A chance police stop sends Ayten, with no identification papers, to jail and eventually back to Turkey, determined to be ineligible for the asylum she has requested — on reasonable but bizarre diplomatic grounds. About the same time, Nejat’s father is released from his German prison and deported to Turkey, where his son refuses to see him. The stitchery begins to tighten as Lotte, desperate, follows Ayten to Istanbul to be near her and try to help her. In a nice contrivance, which seems not at all contrived, she finds a room for rent in Nejat’s apartment and the two Germans become friends.

It is not long before the threads of the story tighten and a coffin is sent back to Germany, in a well chosen mirroring of shots, to match that sent to Istanbul earlier with Yeten’s body. Lotte’s mother arrives in Istanbul, mourning her missing daughter and trying to come to grips with her love for the young Turkish woman. Finding Nejat, the ties of friendship and compassion begin to work; she takes her daughter’s room in his apartment and takes up her work of getting Ayten released. In a modest, nicely drawn scene she helps Nejat see his father again through his anger. He drives out to the old man’s village to connect again over their separation. Again there is some nice camera work mirroring an earlier scene, displacing us and replacing us in the same moment as a knot is carefully tugged tight.

The marvelous last scene of the film, with the credits rolling, has Nejat sitting at the edge of a cove waiting for his father to return from fishing, waiting to call him his father again, while Susanna has brought the now released Ayten –who has “repented” her former associations– to her room in his apartment where she will be waiting — all still unknowing– that he has been searching for her.

The story does not unfold in quite such a straight line, of course. Chance, passion, sudden decisions play a role as they do in Babel, Iniarittu’s much praised film. We are shown the two cultures in the rough mix of migration and globalization; we are taken to the streets of Istanbul and Bremen, the chaos of modernity and the soft hills and bays of Turkey. And yet we know these people, normal, thrown-together people of the world: Germany-Turkey, Mexico-US, Italy-Africa, with as Fatih Akin, the director, calls it, the gap that connects between them.

So, I don’t recall what drew me to the film but I will be looking for others by Akin, Short Sharp Shock and Head On, among them.

Akin speaks, in one of the special features on the DVD, of human love and forgiveness, the humanness of all people. Elsewhere he speaks of the doors to seeing and reconciliation which death opens… At 34 years old he’s making his mark in international cinema, with projects in the U.S. and with Scorsese coming up. Read more about him here, here and here and about The Edge of Heaven, here.