Bliss (Mutluluk)
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When I first read the synopsis for the Turkish film Bliss (or Mutluluk in Turkish), the title seemed to be rather ironic. After all, the story of an innocent Turkish girl who’s condemned by her village’s ancient traditions sounds like it would be anything but blissful. But I was soon pleasantly surprised to discover that this simple but gripping film definitely lives up to its name.

Raped and left for dead outside the village, Meryem (Ӧzgü Namal) is rescued by a passing shepherd and brought home to her father (Emin Gursoy). She can’t remember what happened—or who attacked her—but none of that really matters. What matters is that she’s no longer pure—and, according to her village’s custom, her “sin” comes with a death sentence.

When Meryem refuses to hang herself as ordered, her father’s cousin (and the village’s leader), Ali Riza (Mustafa Avkiran), orders his son, Cemal (Murat Han) to take Meryem to Istanbul and kill her. But Cemal, who has recently returned home from military service, doesn’t want more blood on his hands—especially not Meryem’s—and he just can’t go through with it. Knowing that he can’t go back to the village, Cemal takes Meryem and leaves Istanbul. But his father won’t let Meryem’s crime go unpunished—so he sends two of his men to find her.

From the opening image of a circling herd of sheep to its closing seaside sunset, Bliss is a blissfully beautiful film. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking—from the pastoral setting of the village to the striking cityscapes of Istanbul to the sparkling seascapes that surround the fish farm where Cemal and Meryem find temporary shelter. Every shot is a decadent visual delight.

But Bliss is more than just a series of pretty pictures; it also tells a gripping—and even suspenseful—story. No matter where Meryem and Cemal go, their past continues to haunt them (and Ali Riza’s men continue to follow them). Cemal, especially, struggles with his village’s strict rules—especially as they relate to the roles of men and women. As a result, he’s angry and frustrated and on-edge (not to mention ashamed of his inability to follow his father’s orders). Meanwhile, sweet, naïve Meryem is simply in awe of this strange new world—of the women who speak freely (and wear bikinis!) and the shops that sell beautiful jewelry.

There’s just so much to be said in praise of Bliss. The characters are carefully and lovingly developed. The performances are mesmerizing. And the story is beautiful and thought-provoking, yet handled with a surprisingly light touch. Still, with all the things that can be said about Bliss, by the time the credits rolled, I was rendered absolutely speechless. It’s a stunning Turkish drama that’s not to be missed.

DVD Review:
You won’t hear about Bliss at this year’s Oscar ceremony, but it was easily one of the best films to make its way to American theaters in 2009. So if it didn’t make it to a theater near you—and you didn’t check it out on—don’t miss it now that it’s out on DVD.

The disc does include a few extras—but not many (and they’re definitely not the kind of big-budget features that you’d get from a summer blockbuster). The special features menu includes text biographies of novelist O. Z. Livaneli and director Abdulla Oğuz, a trailer for Livaneli’s book, a gallery of behind-the-scenes stills, and a handful of facts about the production. But the features don’t really matter. Pick up Bliss on DVD for the sheer bliss of seeing this beautiful film.

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