Ozgu Namal, Murat Han, Talat Bulut
Abdullah Oguz, Kubilay Tuncer, Elif Ayan
Based upon novel by Zulfu Livaneli
The most acclaimed Turkish film this decade, "Bliss" has been adapted from a novel by internationally renowned author Zulfu Livaneli, himself an award-winning film director, and is one of the first films to deal with the controversial subject of honor killings.
In "Bliss," Meryem (Ozgu Namal) is a 17-year-old who is found disheveled and unconscious by the side of a lake in the Turkish countryside. Her family believes the worst to be true- that she has lost her chastity. The family turns to the ancient ritual of "tore," a strict moral code that condemns Meryem to death. When Meryem refuses to take her own life, the task falls upon a distant cousin, Cemal (Murat Han), who has just returned from a brutal tour in the military. Cemal agrees to take young Meryem away for the purpose of killing her.
It is clear from the opening moments of "Bliss" that even if every other aspect of the film fails, it would be a beautiful film to behold for the cinematography alone. The film's opening moments are among this year's most beautifully filmed moments, so incredibly sublime that one simply sits back in awe of the camera work of Mirsad Herovic.
Fortunately, much of "Bliss" is just as sublime as Herovic's camera work and among the most intelligent and insightful of this year's foreign cinema.
It has been noted that "Bliss" bears a striking similarity to "Knife in the Water," mostly owing to the fact that much of the film also takes place on a boat. Yet, director Abdullah Oguz makes "Bliss" a film unto itself.
It is difficult to fathom such a scenario here in the United States, that of a young woman being scorned and condemned to death for being the victim of a rape. Yet, this is a fate not uncommon in many countries to this day as such an act is deemed to make the woman unclean and a burden upon her family.
With "Bliss," Oguz examines both the interpersonal and global aspects of this issue by examining the relationship between Meryem and Cemal, the clash of cultures between city and country, rich and poor and, finally, even the clash between those who are educated and those who are not.
By examining "Bliss" holistically, Oguz paints a more realistic picture of the world in which Meryem and Cemal live, a world that is ruled as much by social class and role as it is ritual and moral code.
Namal gives an astounding performance as Meryem, beautifully capturing her efforts to deal with both her shame over what has occurred and her resolve to assert herself beyond the role her family would now assign her. Likewise, Murat Han unexpectedly captures a different Cemal than we may very well expect given his military history. Rather than simply bowing to duty and honor, it is clear that serving in the military has also taught Cemal a different sense of right and wrong and, more than we would expect, he's willing to question when the time comes.
"Bliss" features a marvelous soundtrack from, surprisingly enough, Livaneli himself. Filmed on location in Turkey, Oguz has painted a most wondrous picture of Turkey even amidst the backdrop of such a seemingly archaic custom as honor killing.
"Bliss," a First Run Features release, will have its first-run digital premiere with Gigantic Digital Releasing and opens in New York on August 7th, 2009 followed by an arthouse release around the United States. For more information on "Bliss," visit the film's First Run website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic