Bliss is a provocative voyage across the exotic landscape and placid waterways of Turkey.
Set in an intriguing locale, based on an important novel, Bliss is the tale of diverse culture and sharp -- sometimes brutal -- conflicts. It is a voyage of coming to grips with the challenging cultural mix of tradition and modernity.
Since one of the major factors in this movie is the concept of honor killing, it seems as though it will be very depressing, but ultimately Bliss is life-affirming.
Bliss is the story of Meryem (Ozgu Namal), a girl in a village in Eastern Turkey, who has been "tainted" by a sexual attack, but we don't know the particulars until the end. Because she is now considered impure, custom decrees that she must die, either by her own hand or by a relative.
Meryem refuses to kill herself. She desperately insists she did nothing wrong, so her uncle Ali Riza Amen (Mustafa Avkiran), the family authority in their village, orders his son Cemal (Murat Han), a commando back from battle, to accompany her to Istanbul with the charge to kill her on the way.
Cemal and Meryem meet Irfan (Talat Belet). a runaway professor with a yacht, and the odd trio all have to face their torments and the harsh pressures of the outside world. They take a trip fraught with danger. It's a voyage of introspection, contradiction, and growth.
The best part of Bliss is the wonderful cinematography. Bliss opens with a shot from the distance of serene water, an aerial shot of a body lying on the shore, a herd of sheep moving in a circle, and a close-up of a white stocking on a foot. It's a very evocative series of images and establishes that director Abdullah Oguz and cinematographer Mirsad Herovic are going to provide memorable visual stimulus.
Light is a veritable character in Bliss, as is water. Bliss is full of creative images: hot water flowing over a girl's head, rain coursing off a roof, a rainbow over a sail, color-drenched sunsets, a bright moon in a cloudy black sky.
Bliss is a world of expanses of vivid white earth, lush green foliage, and vast blue water. Turkey is an endless resource of grandeur and beauty for the perceptive director and his gifted cinematographer.
The Turkey of Bliss is a land of extremes and contradictions -- tradition and modernity. An old, steep street in Istanbul has three satellite dishes. In another scene cars whiz by on a major highway. But villages still cling to rigid, cruel traditional customs.
The professor is fleeing from a world of bourgeois materialism. And the young couple are struggling with repressive roles inflicted upon them. It's a world in painful, uncertain flux.
The major drawback in Bliss is that director Oguz and his two fellow writers -- Kubilay Turner and Elif Ayan -- decide to overcook the plot for the sake of cinematic dramatics.
When a serious novel is brought to the screen, one hopes it will survive the transition.
In 2002 one of Turkey's foremost writers O.Z. Livaneli published a novel Mutluluk in Turkey to great praise.
Livaneli is a novelist, politician, composer, and folk musician. He did the music for Bliss.
Mutluluk was translated into English in 2006. In 2007 it was adapted into a Turkish-language film (English title -- Bliss).
The complex, substantial, well-written novel was simplified into an entertaining movie that is less subtle and more conventional than the novel.
Oguz, et al. decided to make the movie more plot driven. They added mystery and conventional resolution. What is revealed on page 4 of the novel is withheld until the end of the movie. It's turned into a surprise ending, but it makes the movie more melodramatic.
The movie also imposes justice and a violent act at the end that is not in the novel. It drops two key characters. It ends with a conventional relationship, not the independence of the book.
Most of all, it ties things up a bit too neatly.
The movie Bliss is not the artistic work the novel is, but it is gripping entertainment.
It's a vivid glimpse into the corner of the soul of a country and its people.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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