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Talal Bulut, Ozgu Namal and Murat Han in Bliss.
Talal Bulut, Ozgu Namal and Murat Han in Bliss.

A foreign flick with the bliss of Hollywood Add to ...

  • Country USA
  • Language English

Bliss

  • Directed by Abdullah Oguz
  • Written by Abdullah Oguz and Kubilay Tuncer
  • Starring Ozgu Namal and Murat Han
  • Classification: NA

Ostensibly, Bliss is an artsy allegory, the kind of foreign flick - Turkey, in this case - that makes the rounds of the festival circuit and invites praise for its sensitive treatment of indigenous cultural issues. Yet don't be fooled. Really, this is just unabashed melodrama, complete with mustachioed villain and wicked stepmother and wronged heroine and rescuing hero, all tied up in a love story sweet enough to make Hollywood blush. The distant setting may be exotic, but those abundant clichés seem awfully close to home.

We start with an overhead shot of the pertinent issue: Meryem, a teenage girl, lies violated in an open field, the victim of an off-camera rape. Since the place is a remote Turkish village, bounded on all sides by backward traditions, the victim (Ozgu Namal) is immediately pronounced guilty and sentenced to an "honour killing" by the village elder, a.k.a. the mustachioed one. Enter the wicked stepmom to offer the teenager a length of rope and the option of suicide. She declines, whereupon the elder's son, Cemal, is assigned the job of transporting the "tainted" girl to Istanbul and finishing her off.

So the allegorical stage is set, beginning with Istanbul itself. As the world knows, that's the city where Europe collides with Asia, where West takes on East, where secular modernism goes toe to toe with musty fundamentalism. A reluctant assassin, but still a dutiful son, poor Cemal (Murat Han) is obliged to personify these mighty tensions all by his lonesome. As luck would have it, he soon receives a guiding hand from the white-haired professor who just happens to be taking a sabbatical and sailing by on his boat, a very modern vessel in need of two deckhands. Naturally, our wronged heroine and our benighted hero hop aboard this floating Eden, far removed from custom's cruel laws and accusatory ways.

There, insight is gained, although not without a struggle. No doubt, the enlightened professor is for freedom and against sexism, a philosophy that attracts Meryem the innocent even as it confuses Cemal the conflicted. That's not to suggest the prof isn't a bit, well, at sea himself. Seems he's grown tired of his "glamorous Western lifestyle," along with his cleavage-baring wife, and actually envies his new deckhands' sense of rural identity. Yes, the symbols start to clash a little here; however, since the script seems unworried by the dissonance, neither should it trouble us.

Anyway, by now, there's a more pressing matter to consider: Villainy is giving chase. Growing suspicious that honour has not been given its murderous due, the elder and his henchmen are hot on the couple's trail. As for director Abdullah Oguz, he shoots all this unfolding melodrama in perfectly composed frames, thereby inadvertently adding another source of conflict: The stylistic symmetry, while undeniably pretty, is at odds with the chaotic content. Seldom has ugly confrontation looked so beautifully ordered. Unsurprisingly, the ending is similarly neat. No, I won't give it away, but, for anyone seeking a verbal clue, the words "sailing" and "sunset" wouldn't go amiss.

The result is infotainment dressed up as an art flick. Turkish society is fascinatingly complex and its East/West tensions give rise not to easy allegories but to hard ambiguities. To explore that truth, read any novel by Orhan Pamuk. To escape it, watch Bliss.

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