First Run Features // 2007 // 105 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // March 25th, 2010
"The highest degree of artistry...a feast for the eyes, ears and mind!" -- KC Online
An eye-opening introduction to Turkish cinema, Mutluluk, aka Bliss, is a treasure waiting to be discovered. Winner of six Golden Orange Awards (the Turkish equivalent of the Oscars); Bliss is a smoldering drama of tradition, loyalty, and sacrifice. It also presents a scathing picture of how different Eastern and Western Turkey are in terms of family control and women's rights; punctuated by stunning images, rich storytelling, and spiritual enlightenment. If anything, the gallons of praise showered on Bliss so far are very accurate.
Beautiful, 17-year-old Meryem (Ozgu Namal) is found dazed and semi-conscious along a river bank. Her father is convinced Meryam has been robbed of her chastity, which doesn't make her a victim, but a prisoner. She now has a choice on whether to confess to being a harlot, or be executed by one of the family members. Since Meryam refuses to explain what happened, the father chooses her cousin Cemal (Murhot Han, in a superb film debut), a war veteran who seeks acceptance into Meryem's family, to carry out the murderous deed.
Cemal takes Meryem on a boat headed for Istanbul. Once there, he orders Meryem to plunge to her death, yet saves her life in a state of confusion. Cermal isn't fully convinced Meryem is a "whore," however he knows full well the consequences if he doesn't carry out his mission. Not knowing where to go, they ingratiate themselves with a retired professor named Irfan (Talat Bulut) who is travelling by boat to nowhere in particular. As Cermal begins to trust and like Meryem more and more, her father forms a posse to hunt them down.
Bliss has the flow of a good book and, in fact, it's based on a book by Zulfu Livaneli, who also contributed the score. Livaneli is a film director but, for some reason, he gives the reigns to Abdullah Oguz, who manages to tell the story through pictures as well as dialogue. Once we get to know Cermal and Meryem as characters, the film wastes no time in detailing their journeys, both physical and emotional. There is an ultra-smooth, almost effortless quality here. Best of all, the story doesn't go off on unnecessary tangents; the one exception is the introduction of a bikini babe who joins the others on Irfan's boat for a temporary amount of time. I'm not sure what her purpose was, and she was gone before I could really question it.
Admittedly, Bliss flirts with being a travelogue at times. The photography by Mirshad Hirovac is positively breathtaking, as it shows all of the natural wonders Turkey has to offer, yet never loses focus of the story and characters. The opening images of Meryem on the river bank have the power to grab you by the scuff of the neck, and her family plight only increases our sympathy. Meryem lives in one of those villages where women are still treated as second-class citizens, expected to give up one's chastity only after they are married. The first acts sets up this situation exquisitely, never falling prey to cheap manipulation. Once the story settles into Act II, with Meryem and Cermal joining Irfan on his boat, the narrative calms down to pay attention to how these characters change. The story does slow down a bit for this development, but it's crucial so the climax can be as nail-biting as possible.
What's also rewarding are the performances by the three leads. Namal, who is actually 31 years old, is especially compelling as the tragic heroine. Bulut also scores highly as Meryem's eventual father figure. Han has perhaps the most difficult role, as he's torn between family loyalty and embracing modern-day Turkish customs. Regardless, the three create strong impressions, all hard to shake off.
First Run Features gives Bliss an adequate DVD, although they are still neglecting to include tech specs on the packaging. The anamorphic image is sheer perfection, beautifully capturing Turkey's serene, sumptuous landscapes without an ounce of grain. The print also boasts bright colors, exceptional flesh tones, and rock-solid black levels. This is without a doubt one of the best prints First Run has ever produced, with the stereo track providing lovely ambience between the environmental sounds and Liveneli's score.
Unfortunately, the extras are fairly second-rate. Firstly, we get brief biographies of both Oguz and Livaneli. The former has only directed three films and, purportedly, he single-handledly created the music video industry in Turkey! We also have a brief advertisement for Livaneli's book (complete with quotes by American critics), a behind the scenes photo gallery (consisting of 11 images in all), and some production notes. It's not much, but all are worth checking out once.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Turkish)
Running Time: 105 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Photo Gallery
* Production Notes