Following the international success of Fatih Akin’s vibrant Turco-German romantic drama Head-On (2003), The Edge of Heaven is intended by the director to be the second film in a loose trilogy, and accordingly it is itself a film of three distinct but closely related parts, each formally delineated by its own heading: ‘Yeter’s Death’, ‘Lotte’s Death’ and ‘The Edge of Heaven’. As the first two ominous titles suggest, death plays a significant rle here, and so it seems fitting to begin at the end.
The film’s final credits roll over the image, in near-static wide shot, of protagonist Nejat Aksu (Baki Davrak) sitting on a beach with his back to the camera (not unlike the final shot of the Coens’ 1991 Barton Fink), looking out expectantly to the entrance of a small bay and while for the lingering duration of this shot almost nothing happens, you too will find yourself in suspense, waiting like some Beckett anti-hero and wondering what the tide will bring.
It is a prolonged moment of longing, hope and melancholy, as the film’s parallel strands, like the two opposite headlands of the bay that Nejat faces, hold out the merest promise of meeting somewhere in the middle but Nejat’s position in the frame, slightly but insistently off- centre, suggests a more asymptotic curvature to the film’s many, painstakingly-realised symmetries. The gap in the middle of the screen, and at the heart of the film, is one that you will have to bridge yourself.
Nejat is a professor in a German university, specialising in Goethe and estranged from his own Turkish origins – but the short-lived relationship of his lonely father Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) with a middle-aged, Turkey-born prostitute Yeter (Nursel Kse) will lead Nejat to return to his motherland on a quest for Yeter’s daughter Ayten (Nurgl Yesilay). Meanwhile, the politically active Ayten flees Turkey for Germany in search of her mother, and begins an affair with German student Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska).
When Ayten is deported back to Turkey, Lotte goes in pursuit of her, and soon Lotte’s disapproving mother Susanne is also drawn to Istanbul, where she had once travelled when she was her daughter’s current age and where Nejat is now running a bookshop formally owned by a German intellectual who has also returned to the place of his birth. It only remains for Ali, too, to come back to Turkey and to rejoin his son, so that the mysterious circle of life (and death) can be squared.
In The Edge of Heaven, different characters’ paths cross or sometimes fail to cross – in unexpected ways, as East and West, love and hate, adolescence and adulthood, life and death are all shown to run in parallel along the same edge. While less in-your-face than Head-On (whose very title, at least in English, advertised its confrontational strategies), Akin’s latest shares that film’s themes of cultural assimilation and alienation, and boasts a script that weaves a subtle, convoluted story from multiple narrative strands.
With ensemble performances as intense as its drama, The Edge of Heaven leaves the viewer, like Nejat, sitting and waiting in patient awe for an end that will blow in either heavenly reconciliation or hellish oblivion.