The Sun Will Rise Again
Mirza Skenderagić: Review of the film “My Name Is Happy"
On the second day of the AJB DOC Film Festival, perhaps the most current film being shown is: “My Name is Happy”. This film brings the global issue of femicide to the attention of the domestic audience, shedding light on the alarming fact that as many as 470,000 women are killed worldwide each year. Directed by Ayşe Toprak and Nick Read, the documentary tells the tragic yet inspirational story of Mutlu Kaya, a Kurdish girl with an angelic voice, who miraculously survived femicide. She was shot in the head by a young man, Veysi Ercan, simply because she refused to marry him. By translating the name of the main character Mutlu, which means "happy" in Turkish, the directors make it clear in the title that the film will address women's issues, while also adding an ironic dimension through the concept of happiness. The result is a cinematically pure, dramaturgically simple, emotional and deeply moving documentary, in which tragedy doesn’t overshadow the predominant feeling. However, by focusing on the victim's perspective, the film consciously or unconsciously neglects a more determined social engagement and a slightly higher dose of political incorrectness, which is evident precisely because it raises the ultimate question about a woman's happiness rather than her freedom.
Toprak and Read handle the story extremely subtly, not rushing the development of the central narrative flow, while striving to discover its poetic nature. They introduce Mutlu in a lyrical slow-motion sequence, her bright green eyes gazing through the car window at the sparse landscape of the small town of Ergani in southeastern Turkey, her hands moving without revealing any difficulties, and her hidden smile, while her voiceover explains the meaning of her name. The story then transitions inside, into her home, in another poetic form, with a static shot of stacked quilts with daylight gently filtering through translucent curtains. At that moment, and once again through the voice-over, a song begins in a painful and quiet rendition by the beautiful Mutlu, whose new gaze through the room's window foreshadows tragedy. The film’s space gradually becomes entirely dominated by the music, a significantly more powerful and more perfect version of the song performed by Mutlu during her appearance on a popular Turkish TV talent show when she was 19 years old. Commenting on her performance, Mutlu mentions how the song describes her life and how she left her heart on the stage, unaware that she was singing her own elegy (a type of lyrical poem dominated by a mournful mood and nostalgia), which is undoubtedly another subtle sign about the outcome of her fate, about which almost nothing is known yet. Before that, in a well-timed dramatic moment, as the song fades into the background and the sun rises above the hills of Ergani in a panoramic drone shot, Mutlu raises key thematic questions in the film: “How could it be possible for a Kurdish girl to become famous? How can such a beautiful girl come from Ergani?" Here, the theme of feminism is engaged in a provincial town where a beautiful woman will not be allowed to succeed. Of course, this raises a new question: „Who and how will prevent Mutlu from becoming famous and showing her talent and beauty to the world?” The authors still won't reveal what ultimately lies behind Mutlu's words, but they constantly offer dramatic signs that intensify the uncertainty, such as when Mutlu concludes that "another family would have been destroyed by now".
In addition to being a film about a wounded woman, it is also a film about family, about relationships with siblings and parents, about the role of a mother, so the majority of the narrative will be dedicated to individual and collective family scenes. Unlike some other families that resolve their problems through conversations, discussions and arguments, Mutlu's family finds peace and salvation in music, metaphorically and literally. Through song, the filmmakers introduce Mutlu's entire family, from mother Hanim, who cries during Mutlu's performance, and then joyfully sings along with her son Hakan, who gathers everyone with his passionate guitar playing, to older sister Songul, who also captivates with her powerful voice. Only father Mehmet remains on the sidelines, present but not directly involved in the film's action, which is somewhat understandable, given the form of the tragedy that he, as the oldest man in the family, has survived. However, his additional commentary would certainly have been crucial for opening up a larger space for analysing the state of Turkish society, clearly still torn between traditional and modern, conservative and liberal, patriarchal and feminist and about which very little is known. For example, even though Mutlu has her parents’ support in pursuing her dream of becoming a famous singer, she still has to consider what to wear for her performance, to avoid others saying: "Look at Mutlu, naked on stage!" At that moment, the father's facial expression stands out, as he watches his daughter's performance, which is a clear authorial suggestion but somewhat too subtle in this regard.
The narrative structure of the concept in this film is mosaic-like, aiming to merge the past and the present into a single narrative stream, by combining archival footage and photographs with filmed scenes. For instance, the assembled family watches Mutlu's performance on television, as if she were performing live on the talent show. After a compelling and dynamic reconstruction of the brutal attack and attempted murder, along with Hakan's heart-wrenching testimony, Mutlu's grim fate and her condition, in which she had to relearn how to walk, speak and, most importantly for her, sing, Toprak and Read subtly introduce her younger sister Dilek during the recordings of Mutlu's recovery. Dilek, the coolest of them all, as Mutlu had previously described her and the one who helped her the most in getting back on her feet. In this way, they set the narrative stage for a new act of femicide, which can already be suspected, as Dilek is the only one absent in the present. Then, they deviate from the initial path again, to provide information that Veysi Ercan was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but also to fully expose Mutlu's current condition, especially her sensitive process of relearning to sing. Of course, the authors will continue to search for the poetic nature of reality, for moments of pure beauty, but they will also open a new chapter in Mutlu's life, in which her silenced voice will find its way on TikTok and then onto the streets. Dilek, who was obviously socially and politically engaged, will be the one to guide her on this path, as evident in a video clip where she delivers a powerful speech about women's rights at a demonstration, which the exhausted Mutlu listens to in confusion while in a wheelchair. This new voice of Mutlu will not possess the power or emotion of the song, or the authors may lightly skim over its journey, but it will represent a second chance and a new birth for Mutlu. The filmmakers deliver the information about Dilek's death, cold-bloodedly murdered by her then-partner and soldier, suddenly, but prepared, presented through three women, Mutlu, Hanim and Songul, softening the shock by washing her grave and keeping the tragedy within their own, feminine world, the only one that will preserve her memory.
"I told the sun: Don't rise! I fought with the sun. Don't rise!” Mutlu says, crying and reminiscing about the moment of her sister's death. But the sun will rise again and the world will not stop, and at the end of the day the question of happiness will remain. "I am very happy", said Mutlu, who was shot in the head with a gun by a man for no apparent reason, because "being happy" today means "being alive." Even with a bullet in the head.