Pub date September 1, 2009
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

REVIEW American regional differences and disparities between rural and urban culture have nothing on their Turkish counterparts. Abdullah Oguz’s Bliss (a title that initially seems cruelly ironic) begins in a village in eastern Turkey where Islamic law still dictates that women be killed for breaches of sexual purity, even when they are victims of rape. Young Meryem (Ozgu Namal) shudders in isolation in a shed, receiving food and deprecation from her stepmother. All that is apparent in the beginning is that there has been some sort of transgression which dictates that a young male relative escort her out of the village to be sacrificed in order to restore the honor of the family. That duty falls on Cemal (Murat Han), her seemingly impassive distant cousin who has just returned from military service. What is initially perceived as a simple task by Cemal becomes complicated as he quietly develops affection for Meryem despite his outward hostility. The culture clash becomes evident when they arrive in Istanbul, and Cemal’s task is received with disdain by a family member who declares that Istanbul is no place for his backwoods customs. A military bud is more diplomatic and provides the awkward duo a remote hiding place related to his fishery business, an act of kindness that can hopefully spare Cemal from the rage of the village elder who ordered the honor killing. As the taciturn two — Meryem tremulous and Cemal brooding — befriend a progressive professor (Talat Bulut), on the run from a stiflingly bourgeois existence, who takes them aboard his sailboat, the tone shifts. At once bliss, however improbable, seems possible. Though Meryem and the professor are more readily sympathetic characters, it is Cemal who is the most intriguing and who represents the power of the film — the quiet, conflicted, and gradual revelations that constitute the necessary pains of progress, both psychological and societal.

BLISS opens Fri/4 at the Roxie.