Abdullah Oguz’s “Bliss” tackles the taboo subject of honor killings. When 17-year-old Meryem is found disheveled and unconscious by the side of a lake in the countryside, her family believes the worst – that her chastity has been lost. They turn to the ancient principle of “tore,” a strict moral code that condemns Meryem to death. The duty of upholding the family’s honor falls upon a distant cousin, Cemal, who has just completed a brutal tour in the military. Together they embark on a surprising journey across traditional and modern-day Turkey.
“Bliss” opens in the US this Friday, August 7, courtesy of First Run Features. indieWIRE contacted Oguz via email to discuss his film.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking, and how has that interest evolved during your career?
In the early 1990’s I entered the Turkish market as both a producer and director. I produced a variety of shows for Turkish television that include game-show formats and television serials. At this time, I was also directing commercials and music videos. It was these latter experiences that attracted me to feature filmmaking. Whenever I created a video or commercial I would always try to tell some sort of story. They became short films of a certain sort. That’s when I realized what I loved most about these projects was taking the camera and telling that story.
Are there other aspects of filmmaking that you would still like to explore?
Since I started in Turkey in the early 1990’s, I have had the pleasure of experiencing both sides of the industry, but there is always more to explore. With “Bliss”‘s critical acclaim and global interest, I am now focusing my energy on doing projects on a more international scale. So, although I have explored what the industry has to offer in terms of my home country, I would like to take what I have learned along the way and apply it on a global scale, maybe even have my next project be in English. I don’t, however, want to abandon Turkey. Turkey is a beautiful location and very accommodating for film production. Furthermore, its history and lore have so many stories that can touch hearts around the world. My hope is to bridge that gap by co-producing projects with companies from outside the country on a global scope.
Please discuss how the idea for the came about and evolved.
The film is based on Zulfu Livanelli’s best-selling novel of the same name. I read the novel and was immediately intrigued by its story. The book was published in 28 different countries, including the US, so I knew there was a mass appeal. Zulfu, who wrote the novel, actually received an award from Barnes and Noble for the work. Zulfu is a friend of mine and actually came to me to make the picture. He was in talks with a separate production company and they approached me to direct the film. After their funding fell through, I decided to take on the project and obtain separate funding and get it made through our company.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Our main challenge involved the development of the screenplay. Our writing team had to make the creative decision as to how we wanted to approach the novel’s adaptation. Obviously, a lot had to be cut out of the novel in order to create the tight narrative I hope we achieved. We also felt that we needed to have a heightened sense of mystery and suspense not found in the novel, but translating well to film. We achieved this by having the village locals chase after Meryem, which was not in the novel. Another main issue was that of a love story. Nowhere in the novel is there a hint at a romance between Meryem and Cemal, but I’m confident it works within the scope of the film.
How did the financing and/or casting for the film come together?
Financing for the film came from two main sources. My company financed a majority of the film through a combination of our own funds and pre-selling the DVD and television rights. A portion also actually came from a grant from Eurimages.
In casting the film, I turned to my other firm, a talent agency. Murat Han was one of our clients at the time and I felt he would make a perfect fit for the role of Cemal even though he had not acted in a feature, previously.
What is your next project?
My project after “Bliss” has already been completed, actually. The story revolves around a different kind of woman, also named Meryem. This Meryem is another portrait of a type of Turkish woman. While the Meryem in “Bliss” is a villager, unfamiliar with the urban life, this second Meryem is a cosmopolitan wife to a harsh and abrasive husband. The plan is to do a “Meryem trilogy” each one reflecting a different aspect of what it means to be a Turkish woman today. We are currently seeking funding for the third film around Europe, as this film will take place in Berlin.
Please share an achievement from your career so far that you are most proud of.
The achievement that I am without a doubt the most proud of is having the guts to direct. I didn’t have any formal education in cinema, nor did I work my way up in a company until they gave me an opportunity to direct. I said to myself, this is what I want to do, and so I went out and did it.