Sunday, February 03, 2008

56. Turkish film director Abdullah Oguz' "Mutluluk (Bliss)" (2007): Taking Livaneli and resurgent Turkish cinema to wider audiences

Some forty years ago, one went to a movie because it was based on a famous book. Today, you are more likely to ferret out a book because the movie on which the film was based was interesting and probably warrants a closer look at the written word.

One such movie that has set me on the paper chase is the Turkish award winning film Mutluluk (Bliss) based on the Turk Zulfu Livaneli’s book of the same name. Apparently the considerably well-known book has been adapted and written for the screen by three writers and the director of the film Abdullah Oguz. I believe the translation of the book is available in English but I have yet to lay my hands on a copy. My search for the Livaneli book resulted in two interesting bits of trivia. Livaneli is himself an award-winning film director (at San Sebastian and Montpellier festivals) not just a literary figure. And Livaneli is a music composer of some repute, having closely collaborated on music with Mikis Theodrakis (composer of 0f Zorba the Greek) of Greece (see my review of A Song for Argyris in this blog) and Livaneli provided the music for my favorite Turkish director Yilmaz Guney’s film Yol (the Way).

The first five minutes of the film Bliss (probably the most stunning 5 minutes in the entire film) is pure heavenly cinema—not anything remotely related to literary genius. You have a shot of a hillock and its mirror image captured in the still waters in the foreground, with heavenly music provided by (you guessed it!) Livaneli. As you are mesmerized by this feast for the eye and ear, the crane shot of the camera zooms in on a herd of sheep. So what’s so spectacular? Anyone can do that, you say. But wait, the director captures a cyclical contrarian rotation of the sheep within the herd that is idyllic, providing almost an epiphany of what is to follow in the movie. How the director got the herd to move in that fashion beats all logic and likely animal choreography.

What follows the opening sequence is a typical honor killing dilemma. A young orphan woman in beautiful lovely rural Turkey has been raped. There is no evidence of who perpetrated the crime until towards the end of the movie. The tradition is that the hapless women are provided a rope to hang themselves. As the young lass remains silent and is reluctant to kill herself, her family decides to send her to the city where her escort is charged with the job of honor killing—kill the victim of the rape.

What follows is a love story between the would-be killer and the victim, a fascinating interplay of the duo with a rich intellectual who owns a wonderful yacht and is running away from a marriage and responsibility, soaking in the natural beauty of the Aegean Sea and the picture postcard coastline. Everyone seems to be running away from some problem or the other...only to find refuge in beautiful nature. Director Oguz and writer Livaneli seem to suggest that "bliss" for the three different characters can be attained if they try to attain it, irrespective of the socio-political or religious conditions in which they (and therefore you, the viewer) are placed by providence or a cosmic scheme of sorts.

At the end of the film, you begin to wonder at what the film insinuates. At a very obvious level there is a conflict between tradition and modernity, between rural lifestyles and the urban lifestyles, between Asian cultures and European/Western values. At a not so obvious level, there are pregnant references to turmoil within Turkey. Much is lost in translation. You get a feeling that there is more to the story than what you are told in the film. Why did author Livaneli, himself an accomplished filmmaker, choose not to direct the film or even write the screenplay, when he graciously provided the music?

Perhaps there is an inverse image of the story as suggested by the opening shot of the film. Probably the novel will have some answers. Even without the answers the film is an invitation for anyone to glimpse the beauty of Turkey, with its melting pot of cultures, religions, and ethnicities. More than anything this possibly sterilized Turkish film has a positive outlook for a country seeking EU membership. Its cinema is quietly surging forward just as its writers are beginning to get noticed worldwide.


ERS said...

I think I would like to see this film.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

Jacob said...

Wonderful review, which left me thinking much, because of the details the blogger had pointed out which I was not aware of. The eye for detail of the sheep was fascinating!

A film to cherish and a review to remember!

Jacob Mathai

Anonymous said...

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Carry on the excellent work!