Traditional and modern mores in contempo Turkey cross paths in the strikingly lensed “Bliss,” an upscale meller with shades of “Knife in the Water.” Formulaic yarn about a disgraced Anatolian girl, her putative killer and an Istanbul sociology prof who find themselves cruising the Sea of Marmara in his luxury yacht is given dramatic heft by good perfs — especially by actress du jour Ozgu Namal — and careful direction by producer-helmer Abdullah Oguz. Given the international stature of composer-writer Zulfu Livaneli’s original novel, accessible pic could even sail into limited theatrical ports as well as festival berths.
In the barren landscape of eastern Turkey, the unconscious body of 17-year-old Meryem (Namal) is brought back to the house of her father, Tahsin (Emin Gursoy), and harridan stepmother, Done (Sebnem Kostem). Meryem won’t talk about what happened, but her family feels shamed by what they believe to be her compliant loss of chastity.
Ali Riza Amca (Mustafa Avkiran), Tahsin’s cousin and the village’s local bigshot, decrees she should pay for her “crime” according to ancient custom. He orders his son, Cemal (Murat Han), fresh out of military service, to take Meryem to Istanbul and quietly dispose of her en route. Meryem herself thinks she’s being taken to meet Yakup (Erol Babaoglu), another of Ali Riza’s sons, for an arranged marriage.
On the way, Cemal can’t bring himself to bump off Meryem and, in Istanbul, is given a tongue-lashing by Yakup, who long ago broke free of the village and its crazy customs. But Cemal can’t return until the job is done.
At this half-hour point, pic cuts to a wealthy Istanbul couple, Irfan (Talat Bulut) and Aysel (Lale Mansur), whose marriage has clearly stalled. In a development that the script doesn’t prepare viewers for, Irfan just walks out of their snazzy home, leaving a note that he needs “a chance to breathe.”
As Cemal and Meryem hide out at a remote fish farm, they cross paths with Irfan on his yacht. After joining him on his cruise, Meryem finds herself caught between the two men’s growing affections for her, while, unknown to all, Ali Reza’s men are hot on her trail.
Livaneli’s original novel has been stripped of much of its political subtext and some of the two men’s backgrounding, and the character of Meryem has been placed centerstage. But as a quality mainstream movie, it still works, thanks in no small part to Namal’s sly perf as a browbeaten country lass who’s still capable of humor and tenderness.
Thesp works well against Han’s Cemal, a conflicted ex-army type given to sudden explosions of masculine prowess, and vet Bulut’s sophisticated, avuncular Irfan. Director Oguz marbles the film with several lighter moments before the admirably brief climax and coda back in Anatolia, which is surprisingly moving.
Production values are tops, with eye-watering lensing by Bosnian d.p. Mirsad Herovic of locations in Marmara, Bodrum and Anatolia. Music by Livaneli himself adds further professional color.