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By Phil Hall | August 6, 2009

Abdullah Oguz’s “Bliss” focuses on a contemporary Turkey that is straddling the modern world while still retaining barbaric old customs. In this case, the ruling chieftain (actually, a flour mill owner) in an isolated Anatolian village decrees that Meryem, a 17-year-old who was raped by an unknown assailant, be put to death. In the warped logic of ancient times, Meryem has sinned and brought shame to her community.

Cemal, a distant cousin of Meryem who is fresh from his military service, is chosen to be her executioner. Cemal is also the son of the flour mill operator, so he cannot disobey orders. Cemal takes Meryem to the distant Istanbul, but is unable to kill her. He reluctantly drags her off to a remote fishing village where no one knows them. However, a chance encounter with a wealthy professor who sails his yacht into port brings Cemal and Meryem into contact with a very different view of how Turkish society should be conducted.

Oguz adapted Zulfu Livaneli’s novel for the screen, though Derek Elley of Variety notes this version lacks the political depth and socio-economic tensions of the original text (I never read Livaneli’s book, so I will assume Elley is correct). The film has too many travelogue-worthy shots of the Istanbul skyline and yachting on the Sea of Marmara – lovely to look at, but at odds with the tense and gritty plot.

To its favor, the film is blessed with strong peformances by Ozgu Namal as Meryem and Murat Han as Cemal. Both actors capture their characters’ evolution out of the rigid Anatolian stereotypes into more complex and multi-dimensional personalities. The chemistry between them carries the film and, ultimately, gives the audience reason to care about “Bliss.”

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