Paper Lives, starring Çağatay Ulusoy, Ersin Arici and Emir Ali Dogrul released on Netflix on March 12. Directed by Can Ulkay, the streaming site describes this Turkish drama as sentimental, dark and emotional. So is it really justifying the emotions they planned to bring out of us? Is the film worth watching? Read on.
The story is about a warehouse worker Mehmet (Çağatay Ulusoy). He earns his livelihood by collecting paper from the streets of Istanbul with his friend Gonzi (Ersin Arici). Mehmet is in dire need of a kidney transplant. His health is in a bad condition and we get to see this just 5 minutes into the film. But his health issues don’t stop Mehmet from working hard. In the warehouse, he employs many teenagers who are on their own like him, living off the streets. Director Can Ulkay sets a gloomy mood with a dark tone at the beginning of the film.
One fine day, life takes a happy turn for Mehmet. When his friend Gonzi returns to the warehouse after collecting papers and bottles, an 8-year-old boy comes along in the sack cart. The boy tells Mehmet that his mother put him in the sack to save him from his physically abusive stepfather. Mehmet takes care of Ali and together they share joyful moments. The screen lights up with warm colours and the story has a cheerful run. However, the drama that unfolds in the last 20 minutes of Paper Lives will send chills down your spine.
Let’s talk about the good things about Netflix’s latest Turkish drama. Ercan Mehmet Erdem has penned a story that takes you on a happy trip only to leave you depressed in the end. As a viewer, we see that Mehmet is taking care of the boy who was left by his mother as redemption of his own childhood. After all, when you have grown up all by yourself on the streets, you wouldn’t want someone else to have the same fate as you! It’s psychological. Just when you try to understand the purpose of the Paper Lives, it crushes you with its twist in the end.
In the process of saving Ali’s life, Mehmet has to confront his own traumas. It’s just like life. We always have enough strength in us to help others. But when it comes to facing our own fears, it takes a lifetime to gather courage. The movie is a classic example of how devastating childhood traumas with abandonment issues can be. Writer Ercan Mehmet Erdem gives Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker-risque twist in the last 7 minutes. It changes everything beautiful we saw in the last 40 minutes.
Despite shooting it in a typical dramatic format, you tend to feel the pain the characters go through in the end. The makers have shown no subtlety as the place where the trauma hits the fan is set is a place called ‘Struggle Alley’.
Çağatay Ulusoy had to show a varied range of emotions as Mehmet in Paper Lives and he does a commendable job. We watch the movie through Mehmet’s vision but it’s actually Ersin Arici’s Gonzi narrating the story about his best friend/brother. He plays his part well. The child actor Emir Ali Dogrul is a delight to watch as Ali and gives a good performance.
Now here’s what doesn’t work in Paper Lives. The trailer did give us a sense of melodrama, but sometimes it gets too much. As someone who’s watched way too many Bollywood films that go OTT with drama and emotions, I can safely say that it ends up ruining even the most powerful and heart wrecking scenes. It happened to me at the beginning when Mehmet’s health is worsening.
Secondly, the music doesn’t blend well with the story. The beauty of art is it is not confined to languages. The songs used in Paper Lives didn’t have the emotions that were reflected by the characters on screen. To be direct, the songs have no impact and are forgetful.
Paper Lives: Is it worth it?
Overall, Paper Lives is a dark and depressing story in a deceptive box of joy. It’s clever writing as it astounds you with the twist in the end. Trigger warning to people who have abandonment issues and are battling with childhood traumas due to abusive parents. Maybe, skip it because it will be an unpleasant experience. The movie doesn’t have a happy ending.
Paper Lives is streaming on Netflix.
For more such reviews, click here.