Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bliss, aka Mutluluk: Grade A


Bliss, aka Mutluluk (2007)
Özgü Namal, Talat Bulut, Murat Han; Director Abdullah Oguz. (Turkish, subtitled).

A young girl (Namal) is raped in a small village in Turkey and then is rejected by her family and village for that “crime.” She won’t say who did it. Her uncle orders her killed to restore the family honor and assigns his son (Han) to the task, but he can’t go through with it and runs away with the girl to the sea. Thugs are sent in pursuit. The mood between the son and the girl is tense, but gradually they develop a working relationship because they recognize that neither can ever go back to the village. They meet a rich, well-educated professor (Bulut) from Istanbul who takes them aboard his gorgeous wooden sailboat and they are exposed to secular life and values for the first time. They are shocked, horrified and fascinated at the same time. In the end justice is done.

It’s a beautiful film to look at, the acting outstanding, the characters engaging, but the sharply drawn theme was the highlight for me. The rigid village traditions seem ridiculous, but most people in the world live in such traditional societies and it makes you wonder why. The answer must be that without those rigid rules (including religious rules, although that aspect is not raised in this film), people would not know how to behave at all. How could you know what was right and what was wrong? Life would be chaos. The rules of traditional society tell you what a person should be, just as military training does for our soldiers and religious training does for most people. Although the result is only a person shaped for a narrowly defined world, the alternative would be a person without a compass. So you realize how necessary traditional values are.

But then you wonder, how do we get by in secular society? The answer this film offers is education. If you are educated, you can discern up from down, right from wrong. Is that correct? I’m not sure it is a complete answer. The movie also says it helps if you are rich so you don’t have to deal with the grubbiness of life. The character of the professor is a too-easy answer, not entirely convincing, but it is one answer. The final message of the movie in any case is that secularism is better than traditionalism.

The tension between traditional and secular society is at the core of modern Turkey, underlying its politics, sociology, and its struggle to join the EU. For Turks, this would be a powerful film that goes right to the heart.

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