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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Abdullah Oguz
First Run Features 08/09 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Turkish director Abdullah Oguz has created a mesmerizing film based on a novel by Omer Zulfu Livaneli. From the shimmering open scenes to the surprising finale, this is a sense-luscious drama that keeps us unsettled and open to the mysteries of human nature. At the core is the struggle of an innocent woman to stay alive in a culture where custom is stacked against her. Accompanying her on a dangerous journey is a young man who bears the burdens of growing up in a village where men are given free rein to beat women. An older man who has escaped a life of wealth and ease wants to savor the freedom of living in the present moment, not knowing or caring what comes next. Together, these three characters share a destiny that is played out aboard a yacht.
The stage is set for Bliss in the opening scene of a primal place of beauty. A lovely shaped hill is reflected in a lake and a herd of sheep gathered in a huge circle unspool in a thread, one by one. Nearby, the unconscious body of 17-year-old Meryem (Ozgu Namal) is discovered by the shepherd and brought to her home in a rural Turkish village built amidst large rock formations. The community assumes that she has been raped and according to the custom of tore (honor killing), she must die for shaming her family.
Meryem's father (Emin Gursoy) is saddened by her plight but her stepmother (Sebnem Kostem) brings her a rope to hang herself with; she tells her to be sure and say her prayers first. When Meryem cannot do the deed, Ali Riza Amca (Mustafa Avkiran), her father's cousin and leader of the village, orders his son Cemal (Murat Han), who has just returned from military service, to take her to Istanbul and murder her on the way. She is told that the trip has been set up for an arranged marriage. When this young man is unable to slay her, they both know this means they must live in exile from their home.
In Istanbul, Cemal connects with his brother who has rebelled against the strict customs and old world ways of his father and others. He also meets with a comrade from the army who tells Cemal that he and Meryem can work and live at a fish farm. It is an idyllic setting but both of them are troubled with dreams of violence. Cemal meets Irfan (Talat Bulut), a wealthy older man sailing alone in his yacht in the Aegean Sea. When the young people lose their job at the fish farm, he asks them to join him as the cook and crew. Meanwhile, Ali Raza sends two men to kill Meryem, once he realizes that his son failed to do so.
In the last segment of this extraordinary film, Irfan provides a stark contrast to his new friends. He has walked out of an unhappy marriage to a wealthy woman and turned his back on a prestigious teaching career. He likes Cemal but is attracted to Meryem's innocence and her savoring of the small pleasures of life. As they journey from one port to another, we sense that even in this paradise-like setting, none of these characters has left behind what they have tried to flee. We are afraid that Meryem's assassins will catch up with her. We worry about the macho violence that still plagues Cemal and grows more fierce as he begins to get jealous of Irfan's attention to Meryem. And we wonder whether the secrets these strangers keep from each other will tear them apart of become a special bond.
Special features on the DVD include production notes; biographies; and a photo gallery.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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