Insightful and sensitive

Fatih Akin creates real-world characters we can care about

Can we just hand Fatih Akin the Best Director Oscar now and be done with it? Fat chance. The Turkish-born German filmmaker may be able to effortlessly glide between the gutter romance of vintage Alex Cox and divine narrative choreography of Krzysztof Kieslowski, but he's still too second-gen European to attract Academy voters. Never mind that The Edge of Heaven is what the absurdly overpraised Babel imagined itself to be, Akin suffers for a lack of Brad Pitt.

The director's 2005 Head On was hands-down the most moving and emotionally challenging film this digit has seen in years. A harrowing multicultural reimagining of standard romantic comedy tropes, it heralded Akin as an insightful and sensitive filmmaker who embraced the strength of the human heart while recognizing the absurd cruelties of the modern world.

Constructed like a novel, The Edge of Heaven's complicated plot begins with lonely widower Ali (Tuncel Kurtiz) propositioning middle-aged hooker Yeter (Nursel Kose) to be his paid live-in concubine. The two move in together and calamity quickly ensues, inspiring Ali's son Nejat (Baki Davrak), a university professor, to travel to Istanbul to find Yeter's estranged daughter and make amends.

Meanwhile, the daughter, Ayten (Nurgul Yesilçay), is a political activist who flees Turkish authorities to Germany in search of her mother. Instead she finds and falls in love with Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska), a university student. Distrusted by her new girlfriend's mother (famed German actress Hanna Schygulla) and discovered by the police during a routine traffic stop, Yeter's budding romance is cut short as she's deported to and imprisoned in Turkey. Family bonds crumble, more connections are missed and, tragically, someone dies.

While The Edge of Heaven doesn't have the same propulsive energy and raw visceral impact of Head On, Akin again creates real-world characters we care about, as they cope with heartbreaking losses that, too often, they bear responsibility for. A passionate humanist, the director juggles multiculturalism, generational rifts and emotional tragedy in a hyperlinked drama that highlights the undeniable connections that bind us as human beings. There's no overarching agenda to Akin's delicate narrative, just half a dozen crisscrossing children and parents struggling to find their way back to each other. The quiet revelation of his film (and the title's inspiration) is that reconciliation is always possible, if sometimes in unlikely ways.

Which has become Akin's trademark style of sorts, making austere yet unpredictable encounters seem inevitable. It's also one of his weaknesses. As absorbing as The Edge of Heaven is, a formula of misdirected expectations and contrivances emerges, and what at first seemed unconventional takes on its own form of conventionality.

Despite this, Akin's terrific cast elicits tremendous empathy, pulling you into their everyday lives and letting you experience both their grief and muted joy. It's intensely poignant and never maudlin, daring you forget about how we connect as human beings and simply focus on that, despite a world of differences, there is, indeed, a connection.

Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-3237), at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17-18, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 19.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].

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