paper lives (kagittan hayatlar in Turkish) begin with a quote, “in a world where children cry, laughter can only be cruel.” Instantly, the film shows the theme that it is going to explore, street children. From then on, we expect the narrative to bring back the promised conflict. meanwhile, it explores the struggles of its protagonist, mehmet (Çagatay ulusoy) who is waiting for a kidney donor to receive a kidney transplant. but who is mehmet?
summary of ‘paper lives’
mehmet is a middle-aged man who runs a solid waste dump in his neighborhood. he employs homeless children and teenagers who collect rags for mehmet which he sells to factories. Mehmet’s little world revolves around his close friend Gonzales and his uncle Tahsin, who took him in when his family abandoned him on the streets. Since then, Mehmet has been trying to find his mother, an activity that is also on his wish list.
Things get complicated and the main conflict arises when a little boy, Ali, shows up at Mehmet’s warehouse. he comes out of a sack of rags, where his mother left him. mehmet is moved to see ali in such a condition.
at first, mehmet tries to find ali’s mother and her house, but seeing ali’s refusal to return, he gives ali a job at his warehouse. He treats the boy as if he were his own son, but things get quite complicated when Ali begins to display uncontrollable outbursts. Mehmet, unable to understand the problem, tries to immerse himself further into Ali’s life.
directed by can ulkay and written by ercan mehmet erdem, paper lives) is not a simple turkish drama by the looks of it. hidden information is like breadcrumbs that writers leave at regular intervals. it all connects at the end when a devastating reveal is made. the revelation grabs you by the throat and kicks you in your seat making you wonder, “what just happened.” Coming from the streets of Turkey, Paper Lives incorporates the subtle ironies of street life and explores a void created in a child’s life by the actions of his parents, unaware of the horrors they are inflicting on his innocence.
important spoilers ahead
explanation of the end of ‘paper lives’ (kagittan hayatlar)
mehmet’s full name is mehmet ali. Surprisingly, the boy she meets is also named Ali. however, in reality, he never knows a boy. Ali is a creation of his own mind, molded from Mehmet’s own childhood. Actually, Mehmet’s own mother put him in the sack, and it was his own stepfather who used to beat him mercilessly. the item on his wish list, “meeting his mother” was something that kept mehmet preoccupied, often escalating to the point of mental trauma. By creating Ali, Mehmet was trying to fill the void of his own childhood. he kept calling his childhood, trying to make his childhood happy, but the past is something we can’t change. Mehmet was inclined to do the impossible.
“mehmet ali was different. sometimes he lost his sanity. later, he could not distinguish imagination from reality. ”
according to gonzales’ voiceover, in the end, it wasn’t the first time mehmet created ali. he kept bringing those memories back. even in the opening sequences, while returning from the hospital, mehmet mentions something about a boy, which gonzales and uncle tahsin ignore. it’s the epitome of brilliant writing to put clues into the movie that viewers reconnect with. it makes you remember the images, the information and thus creates an impact on the viewers. paper lives (kagittan hayatlar) is indeed a well written movie.
“All he wanted was to help bring his abandoned childhood and his mother together. Mehmet Ali was a street kid. he had no mother to nurture him. he was alone. like us.”
In the beginning, Paper Lives plays out like a simple middle-eastern drama with an incredibly unique set-up of rag-pickers. The world keeps you engaged with Turkish serendipity and mundane lives. However, when the drama strikes, the film becomes a mind-blender where you start noticing each bit on screen. The term for enjoyment is over and confusion preps in. you can trying to analyze and understand. It is the mark of a brilliant piece of art to keep you engaged, either with beauty or confusion. Paper Lives (film) offers both. It is also a great example of the fact, that you don’t always need big sets, heavy scientific theories, or conspiracy theories to build a mind-bending film. The human mind, in itself, is a complex arena, that one can keep exploring deeper and deeper. And Fortunately, to explore it, you just need to sit down and think, and to create a mind blender of that sort, you need to have the power of words.
paper lives lacks strong performances, but it sure has a strong message. it’s a worthwhile watch if you like to watch movies from different regions of the world. The movie is also available with an English translation on Netflix, but if you want to get the flavor of the movie, subtitles can also be essential. don’t miss this one.
paper lives (kagittan hayatlar) airs on netflix.
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