Film >Beyond the sea
Can the distance between hate and tolerance, freedom and oppression, open minds and suffocating religious fanaticism be quantified and located on a map? In the case of Eurasia, it can: That gulf separating modern civilization and the Stone Age lies within the majestic waters of the Aegean Sea, which is exactly where the two leads in this tide-turning film from Turkey find themselves. To the East lies their Turkish village and the rest of the Middle East, a moral and spiritual death camp for any woman, but especially one “tainted,” as our female lead has become through no fault of her own. But just over the sea to the North lies comparatively forward-thinking Istanbul, and to the West are the Greek Islands and Italy. Everyone there may be “whores,” as one person calls the Westerners, but at least they’re alive and well.
The ruined woman in question, Meryem (Özgü Namal), has been sent out of her village toward Istanbul because she was raped and doesn’t possess the “courage” to kill herself because of it. To finish the job, her family enlists a distant cousin, Cemal (Murat Han). The already reluctant Cemal encounters some difficulty as they progress out of the village, as even other family and friends they encounter scoff at “those customs,” meaning honor killings. But, as the Washington Post reported in 2001, the killings are increasing in number and expanding in scope; the “dishonored” parents, if they are true to Allah, will find you no matter where you go.
When it’s time to carry out the deed, Cemal can’t go through with it, thus adding his own name to the kill list. So they take to the sea, working as sea hands for a genial, Westernized professor named Irfan, who exposes the villagers to a life unencumbered by servitude to the great guilt-maker in the sky, or what Meryem refers to as “a sickness inside.” But Cemal’s upbringing dies hard and as Irfan and Meryem grow closer, Cemal casts himself as the ship’s buzz kill. But out at sea with no direction home, his values are rendered toothless.
Bliss is wonderful storytelling through and through. From the lyrical opening shot of a mountain’s reflection piercing the sea to the closing portrait of open air, director Abdullah Oguz’s narrative is just as crystalline as the Aegean Sea he opulently photographs. Bliss easily could have been an astoundingly depressing and hopeless tale of Muslim oppression, a la last month’s The Stoning of Soraya M., but after he establishes the old-world order that the leads are escaping, he never looks back.
Oguz takes great joy in showing their awakening, but it’s nothing compared to the ecstatic, sometimes overwhelming, life that composer Zülfü Livaneli (a frequent collaborator of Zorba the Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis) breathes into the proceedings. Every emotional turn of nearly everyone involved in the making of Bliss is tangible, not just those of the characters onscreen but the production team’s as well, providing a catharsis that feels communal even for the viewer just sitting on the couch.
Bliss opens at www.giganticdigital.com Aug. 7 for a $2.99 three-day “viewing ticket.”