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From left, Talat Bulut, Ozgu Namal & Murat Han (Photo: First Run Features)

Produced & Directed by
Abdullah Oguz
Written by Kubilay Tuncer, Elỉf Ayan & Oguz, based on the novel by Zulfu Livaneli
Released by First Run Features
Turkish with English subtitles
Turkey/Greece. 105 min. Not Rated
Ozgu Namal, Murat Han, Talat Bulut, Emin Gursoy, Mustafa Avkiran & Sebnem Kostem

Bliss is set completely in Turkey, but it seems like an odyssey through time and space, from the circumscribed past to the cosmopolitan present, before it sails off to a visually stunning land of movie romance.

The striking image of an abandoned, disheveled teenage girl by a mountain lake powerfully opens the film. Village gossips and her family immediately condemn the traumatized Meryem (the very expressive Ozgu Namal) for allowing herself to be attacked by an assailant she can’t (or won’t) identify. Her treatment would seem exaggerated if similar villages under strict Islamic control haven’t been reporting actual honor killings, one of which was graphically depicted in The Stoning of Soraya M. Both films note the complicity of women in helping to enforce this cruel tradition, though Meryem’s mean stepmother seems straight out of Cinderella. She locks Meryem in the barn and pressures her to commit suicide. Extraordinarily, the abandoned young and naive woman resists.

Her father’s cousin, the village leader, has to decide how to solve a problem like Meryem. He is sure that his son Cemal (Murat Han) will continue following orders when he’s released from military service. All Cemal will have to do is get rid of her, like so many other women who have disgraced their communities—to push her off the train to Istanbul, or off a bridge, or sell her to a brothel.

Both young people are suffering from post-traumatic stress and are racked by nightmares—Cemal is exhausted and edgy from killing Kurdish separatists on the Iraqi border. But the old ways become harder and harder to follow the farther they travel the almost 1,000 miles from eastern Anatolia to Istanbul and around its busy harbors and scantily-clad women. But because Cemal hasn’t completed his assignment within the anonymity of the big city, village henchmen follow the two to carry out the killing. Finding temporary refuge in an isolated cove, Cemal and Meryem can’t help but notice how attractive the other is.

They then find rescue in the form of a yachtsman, white-haired Irfan (Talat Bulut), needing a crew. Zulfu Livaneli’s novela sweeping and alternating look at Turkey’s religious, ethnic, class, gender, and political conflictsis narrowed down to these conflicted cousins from the hinterland vs. Irfan, a symbol of the urban, Western-oriented intelligentsia. Though evidently a European version of the film introduces Irfan sooner as a married professor in the throes of a mid-life crisis, delaying this background information makes him more mysterious and supports Cemal’s initial suspicions. With all their secrets set against the sun and sensuality of the Aegean Sea, the film intriguingly verges on a ménage a trois cross between Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and René Clément’s Purple Noon, and is as beautiful looking.

Mirsad Herovic’s lovely, swirling cinematography and the novelist’s own emotive score help gloss over stereotypes and some clunky melodrama. Ironically, the book specifically rejected a romantic conclusion as too Hollywood an outcome, but the added realistic touches balance the film, overall making it a satisfying entertainment. Nora Lee Mandel
August 7, 2009



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