Bliss, with the original title “Mutluluk”, is a Turkish movie which was first released in 2007, yet I came across only recently. At first I was reluctant to watch it, thinking that the way it was shot would be too old-fashioned to retain my attention but ultimately I am glad I gave it a chance because it deals eloquently with an uneasy subject – “honour killings” in the Muslim world. However, the issue of “honour killings” or instances when individuals are murdered usually by members of their family because they have done something that is considered shameful in their community is not confined to Islamic countries, as it has spread across the world. Indeed, the media often recount such stories with a rather grim tone, as if to highlight their simultaneous absurdity and inevitability. In fact, the problem has become significant enough in the UK to make the creation of a National Memorial day of victims of hour killings possible. However, instances of honour killings have also been recorded in Ireland, Germany, Bulgaria and Europe as a whole. In relation to this, the European project “Prevention of violence against women and girls in patriarchal families” provides an interesting read. So, in consideration of the above, the storyline of the film is not as unfamiliar to a European audience as it most likely once used to be.
Despite, the heavy focus on tradition and religious morality, the movie has a light-hearted rhythm to it which makes it flow like a poem. Still, it does begin ominously, swiftly switching between silent and peaceful opening scenes, with the image of a hill reflected in water, to reveal a distressing sequence of shots of a young woman, Meryem, lying on the ground lifelessly, because she has been assaulted. The viewer is invited to worry about this young woman, as she is locked in the darkness of a subterranean barn, awaiting her trial for having allegedly “sinned”. What unfolds is a narrative that assumes that the viewer is to some extent familiar with the idea that a woman can be held responsible for becoming a victim of violence and that she could potentially be blamed for dishonouring her family. Soon we find out that her distant cousin, Cemal, will be returning from the army and that he will become instrumental in her execution. In accordance with the wishes of the elders of the village he must take her to Istanbul in order to murder her in cold blood and save the family honour.
“fate is as fluid as water and that we can determine the direction in which we swim”
However, young blood is rarely cold and their journey becomes one filled with clashes between the traditional values of rural Turkey and the rather Westernised modern urban environment of Istanbul. Along the way, they meet several individuals, each potentially a metaphor for a different path in life. Slowly, it becomes more apparent that the goal of the film is to bring about a realisation that human life is precious and that forgiveness can lead to a more fulfilling state of mind than revenge. Also, I think that this movie is now, with the rise of Islamophobia in Europe, more relevant than ever, because it gives the individuals involved in this story a human face, showing the internal dilemmas they must overcome in order to defy old customs. The authenticity of the acting also makes it easier to relate to the characters and empathise with them. There is a particularly scene, which I found almost heart-breaking, when Meryem obediently follows Cemal, climbing a steep flight of stairs, part of a tall bridge arching over a highway. As they climb, she is unaware that he is planning to force her to jump to her death, but there is a silent yet explosive built up of tension. This interplay between moments of tranquillity and times when we wonder if she really will die, runs like a thread through the entire film and plays with the nerves of the viewer very successfully. A further element I found beautiful was the constant presence of water and the sea throughout the movie, as it seemed to follow after every violent scene, balancing the tension with a feeling of relief. It was also a reminder that our fate is as fluid as water and that we can determine the direction in which we swim.