Bliss personalizes the brutal custom of honor killing. Director and co-screenwriter Abdullah Oguz has skillfully created an intense view of the conflict between tradition and emotion in contemporary Turkey. Several international film festival prizes, including some audience awards for Best Film, are evidence of Bliss 's arthouse potential. Outreach to women's and human rights groups could broaden attendance.
17 year old Meryem (Özgü Namal) is found passed out an unsafe distance from her village. She refuses to discuss her ordeal. Her family believes that her purity has been compromised and she’s therefore disgraced. While Meryem remains quiet, she is not as compliant as one might wish. As Meryem, Namal is exceptional, showing the complicated feelings that eventually break through an initially quiet façade. In an expressive close-up, Namal gives Meryem a smiling defiance as she takes her head out of a rope her hostile stepmother had given her for her suicide.
Her father's cousin Ali Riza (Mustafa Avkiran), the village leader, wants to "clean up this mess" that sullies the family honor, citing local gossip. He invokes the traditional code, deciding Meryem must pay for her "sin" with her life. Under the ruse of an arranged marriage, he sends the girl to Istanbul with his son Cemal (Murat Han). As he was taught in his recently completed military service, Cemal agrees to follow the orders of his father to kill his cousin. Meryem's father (Emin Gursoy) says his daughter's ordeal is tearing him up, but he remains as passive to the authoritative Ali Riza (Mustafa Avkiran), as he was when Meryem’s stepmother beat her.
On the trip to Istanbul, Meryem blossoms from being away from the grim village. To Cemal's annoyance, she has friendly conversations with fellow travelers. A light tone to the music emphasizes Meryem's new mood. Zülfü Livaneli, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, composed the score.
Director Oguz has shot visually arresting images throughout, from the overhead pattern of sheep in the countryside to the stairs leading to a bridge in Istanbul. Cemal is unable to follow through on killing his cousin and, with the help of a close friend from the military; he and Meryem hide out as replacement workers at a fish factory. Han also gives a strong performance, showing Cemal's often volatile mood swings. Cemal is frustrated by his close proximity to his female cousin. After a dream of Meryem as his seducer, he wakes in fury. Cemal's sad face reflects his inner concerns.
Cemal and Meryem are offered jobs on the crew of a large boat captained by Irfan (Talat Bulut), who is more laid back than the two cousins. The idyllic scenes of their voyage are an ironic counterpoint to the escalating resentment of Celan toward the attention and affection the worldlier Irfan shows Meryem.
The focus on the personal connections keeps Bliss compelling.
Oguz successfully builds suspense from different directions—the shifting relationships on the boat and the more direct threat from men sent by Ali Riza to make sure Meryem is killed. Meryem and Cemal's journey leads to a satisfying conclusion.
First Run Features
Cast: Talat Bulut, Özgü Namal, Murat Han, Mustafa Avkiran and Emin Gursoy
Director/Producer: Abdullah Oguz
Screenwriters: Kubilay Tunçer, Elif Ayan and Abdullah Oguz
Genre: Drama; Turkish-language, subtitled
Running time: 105 min.
Release date: August 7 NY