Film Review: Bliss

Only in an industry absent female voices would anyone imagine an audience for Bliss, in which violence against women is explained to us from the point of view of the men who perpetrate it.

Bliss is an entirely new twist on offensive heterosexual male fantasy—beginning with the title. The film is about the practice of honor killing. It opens with Meryem (Özgü Namal), a 17-year-old Anatolian girl, being sentenced to death by her male relatives; she dishonored them when she was raped.

To be fair, Turkish director Abdullah Oguz’s title may state an intention—his desire to make a movie that imagines another outcome for Meryem. But Bliss isn’t about Meryem at all; it centers on Cemal (Murat Han), a relative of Meryem’s, and the man who is to carry out the killing. Bliss tells the story of his transformation, the improbable reversion of his misogyny.

Other evidence of Oguz’s antediluvian sensibilities is found in minor characters, such as Meryem’s father, who consents to her murder, and who admits that he’s never interfered when his wife, Meryem’s stepmother, beat the girl. Rather than treating the father as a symptom of everything that is wrong with Turkish society, Oguz portrays him as a sympathetic figure. Worse is the film’s characterization of Meryem: She loves her father and her murderer.

Next is Irfan (Talat Bulut), who befriends Meryem and Cemal: He’s a 60-something retired professor who leaves his wife—she doesn’t understand him—in order to sail around the world and find his bliss. Irfan is what passes for a wise, paternal figure in Oguz’s patriarchal universe.

It is hard to imagine Bliss having any crossover potential for Western audiences, but already some American reviewers are swooning over Oguz’s pretty cinematography.

Bliss is a frightening example—especially if you happen to be a woman—of what passes for socially conscious cinema in an industry dominated by male voices. In the end, of course, there is the question of artistic merit: What is the audience for a formulaic story about misogyny, seen from the point of view of the misogynists, with clichéd characters and incompetent direction? And, about Oguz’s cinematography: The director knows how to exploit beautiful scenery, but he fails at the most basic task of a filmmaker, which is to communicate emotion. One example occurs at the beginning of the film, when Meryem is imprisoned. Her stepmother throws her a rope in an attempt to get her to commit suicide so that the family will not have to kill her. Oguz cuts to a close-up of the rope, and not to a reaction shot of Meryem.

The message of Bliss is that love, especially that felt by victim for victimizer, will cure a society in which several hundred women a year are the victims and male relatives are their murderers. The assertion itself is a form of violence against women.