by Eda Savaseri, guest blogger
“The best way to make children good is to make them happy.”
Children are our future. We always say this but which children do we mean when we say this? Our own children or children in general? Do we fail to remember that if we care about the future we need to start caring more about children in general? For instance, what about the children who have no homes, no parents, who are left to survive on their own?
Cagatay Ulusoy’s new movie on Netflix called Paper Lives made me think about this general problem in my country, Turkey. However I know that many other countries including Western countries struggle with this. We fail to protect kids. Even in their homes a lot of kids are abused, beaten, treated badly and suffer as the victim or the witness of domestic abuse. Then there are kids who think even these kids are lucky because they have to survive on the streets. They are the kids who have fallen between the cracks. They weren’t lucky enough to get protection from the government’s institutions or somehow they chose to turn their backs to the system for their own reasons.
I feel like the movie had to sugarcoat or maybe keep hidden a little of what life is really like for these kids. In reality, surviving the streets is even harder and, most of all, they don’t just have a difficult childhood but an overall difficult life because they don’t have proper education. A lot of these kids grow up to be criminals. As a society, sometimes we tend to look at criminals and think this is their choice but nobody would deliberately choose a life of crime if they had a childhood on the street.
Child Protection in Turkey
So how does the child protection system work in Turkey? It is important to understand that child abuse of any kind must be reported to the authorities immediately. One of the main reasons these things keep going on, and some children need to abandon their homes or are thrown out of their homes, is because families or friends of families don’t report these cases. Reporting these cases and giving free or cheap legal support is essential to help these children and/or their single parents.
If a report has been made, that’s when social services can intervene. Most of the time the child will be taken from the family and will either be left to foster care or will be put inside a private or public institution for children care and protection. Sometimes the government may also provide housing to the family or the parent.
Of course, providing care is the last measure. The first would be to provide counseling or education depending on the circumstances. Parents still have visiting rights when a child is in foster care. Some children can also be adopted, this is when the family is willing to give the child away completely.
At the moment Turkey also has a refugee problem. Some of the children on the streets are these refugees who have lost contact with their parents and some of them aren’t even registered so they are not able to seek legal protection or help. Turkey is working on helping these children as well and collaborates with organizations like UNICEF to help children who need protection.
Kids on the Streets
There are two types of children on the streets. The first kind is working kids, who are trying to help support their parent/s by selling water or tissue paper. Some of these kids go to school and most of them go home at night to their parents. The second kind is children who live on the streets, who have lost contact with their parents due to loss or sometimes they had to run away from abusive families. These children often hang out in groups to survive. Some of them work on the streets in various jobs like we saw in Paper Lives.
Unfortunately, as we saw in the movie, some get addicted to substances and end up hurting themselves and others. Where do they live? Mostly in abandoned apartments or unfinished construction buildings. Sometimes they break into apartments that have been empty for a long time. As I said, they almost always hang out in groups. This is necessary for their survival and I think it gives them a taste of the family they never had or lost.
Why is this happening, when the legal system is really protective of children? When the number of child protection centers are increasing and also the professionals trained in this area are increasing? Why are there still many children on the streets, especially in the suburbs if not in the biggest and richest neighborhoods? Mostly the problem lies in the system’s lack of awareness of all these kids who have not been reported. The system is only able to help those who ask for help. Even so, there is clearly still not enough housing to contain all these kids living on the streets.
Juvenile justice is also a problem because kids who commit a crime are seen as lost cases and, apart from personal efforts, the system and society don’t do what’s necessary to win these kids back and the kids find it easier to keep going in the same familiar direction.
Thankfully there are many organizations in Turkey apart from the public ones that are working on child protection. Whether it’s to help families who can’t afford their children’s education or it’s providing housing or financial help, these organizations do their best to help and to raise awareness of this social problem. I will include some of these organizations’ contact information for those who may want to hold the hand of these kids even with the smallest amount you can afford.
Everyone knows the fairy tale called Little Match Girl. It’s the saddest fairy tale. I remember reading it as a kid with tears in my eyes and asking myself, how is this possible? It’s hard to believe in such a modern world, there are still children who have to endure a tough life on the streets. Life on the street is already tough for an adult, but for a kid who needs to be nurtured and taken care of, it must be even harder.
We see them on the streets and we feel bad but we also get used to seeing them after a while. It’s a part of life, it’s not humane but still we get used to it. Today, let’s open our eyes to the truth. We don’t have to ignore them, let us open our hearts and our eyes and do the minimum we can. Firstly, never ever ignore an abused child and report immediately. Second, help whenever you can, you don’t have to take risks, you can help in a modest and risk free way by donating to many organizations and charities.
Children are our future. Not just the ones we brought to this world but all of them. When we start feeling responsible and do what we can, that’s when the world will become a better place and we will start to become better humans. Let’s build a better world together, a world ALL children deserve.
*Umut Çocukları Derneği
*Koruncuk Vakfı (Turkiye Korunmaya Muhtac Cocuklar)
Article (c) CUNA & Eda Savaseri
Eda Savaseri is a Turkish copywriter from Istanbul. She loves cats, books, chocolate and traveling. She loves sharing things that she learns and apply towards self-improvement.
She enjoys writing about a multitude of topics and loves to share her thoughts about TV Shows she's watching. You can find her blog here.
by mh musings
A look into the life story of Mehmet, a child who could never resolve his past as his future hung in the balance.
Spoiler Alert: If you wish to read a spoiler-free review of the movie, go here. This post delves deeper into the character of Mehmet, so beautifully brought to life by Cagatay Ulusoy
None of us came out with dry eyes after watching Paper Lives. Cagatay's soulful depiction of Mehmet is so beautifully done, capturing such a broad range of emotions, that it makes us want to go back again and again and, like him, search for the innocence of his childhood for him just so we can protect him for all that he endured in life.
Mehmet is no ordinary man. He didn't choose to be a part of an abusive household, and he didn't choose to be parted from his beloved mother. He didn't choose to be thrown out in the midst of a crusted neighborhood where survival instincts can rob people of their humanity. We see this in the group of trash collectors who beat up Mehmet before his last stint in the hospital. We only know that his mother put him in the cart, but we are not shown his history of how he eventually comes under the care of Tahsin Baba. What traumas did he live until we meet him in the present day?
By looking at visual and aural clues provided throughout the movie, we wanted to re-construct the life Mehmet lived and why his mental health became so fragile towards the end.
Scars & Physical Health
We are introduced to Mehmet's debilitating cough when Gonzi takes him to the hospital after his evening out in the rain. We see that he has a prominent scar on his nose, most likely from a brawl or a street fight to defend himself.
As he is waiting in the waiting room, we see his placid complexion, which can be indicative of lung issues as well as a failing kidney. He's a smoker, and we later come to learn that kids older than himself hurt him and abused him by forcing him to sniff glue, at the very least. Who knows what more he endured while he tried to find a home for himself.
He takes off his shirt for the doctor, and we see a jagged scar on his back. The crude nature of the scar can suggest that one of his kidneys got farmed against his wishes, which leads him to his weak health today as his body puts undue strain on his remaining kidney. We are also shown a brief glance of bloody urine, confirming the failing state of his kidney.
When we first meet Ali, he is bruised and battered. Through Mehmet's later flashbacks, we realize that he was beaten repeatedly and brutally by his stepfather, and his mother decides it is better to leave him in a garbage can than to run away with him and protect him.
He gets into another altercation with the street thugs in the Cihangir area, where his home used to be. Who knows how long his mind has been playing games on him and how many times he got beaten up in this manner elsewhere. Tahsin Baba may have provided them with work, but he is not shown to be around to provide physical protection at all times.
Despite the heroic figure he cuts for the youngsters in his neighborhood, Mehmet is deeply scarred, mentally and physically, and lives with the conflict of needing to dream so he can survive, and retreating into his imaginary world so he can cope.
His closest bond is with Gonzi, and it is obvious that they have grown up together. Gonzi loves him deeply and absorbs all of Mehmet's ventures in his alternate universe. To Gonzi, Mehmet is the stability of his known family and the way he holds up Mehmet time and again is the testament to how much he loves Mehmet; how much Mehmet means to his existence. Purged by their real families, they try to find meaning in bonds they are able to create and we see that in the bonds Mehmet formed. Bond of brotherhood with Gonzi, a father he can respect in Tahsin Baba, and big brother to all the young kids he tries to corral into choosing better than what he absorbed in his own life. He creates a tensous sense of family, but could never fill the hole in his heart left by his abandonment by his mother. And as such, every female figure in his universe looks like her.
The Past Defines The Future
From the time Mehmet sees his 'mother' at the hospital and how every female role in his life embodies her, speaks to the depth of loss he feels without her. He wants to believe that all mothers love their children and that she abandons him for his own good, because she had no other way. That she needs to be saved and it was because of money that she couldn't go with him. As such, saving up so that he can save her becomes a vision that gives him hope. He cannot possibly acknowledge the question Tahsin Baba asks him, "What if his mother threw him out willingly? Why isn't she looking for him all over Istanbul?"
When we see his recollections from the past and see that his mother just put him in the cart and let him go, we finally comprehend what Mehmet Ali fears in his heart all along. Much as he yearns to believe that his mother loved him deeply and must want to see him as much he wants to see her, the reality may be quite different. Their house was put up for sale soon after she left him and the sole photo he has of his mother with him is dug out from the trash can outside once his mother no longer lives there. As though she purged all her memories of Mehmet and disappeared. His mother chose to live her life with his stepfather over taking the responsibility for Mehmet. The reality of this is too tragic for Mehmet to accept and he builds a world in his mind where his mother loves him beyond reason and suffers because she does not have him. This is the only reality that helps the fragility of his mind, and both Gonzi and Tahsin Baba protect this reality for him by indulging his manic whims.
Unlike the child who is legitimately on the streets because his mother passed away, Mehmet is on the streets because his mother threw him away. Gonzi says, "Isn't it good that at least he has a home where he is beaten?" For the street children, an abusive household is preferable to no home at all; maybe it is preferable to be under the same roof as their parents than to feeling that they were an unwanted burden on their parents.
There are no good answers to this dilemma and the sad reality of this social system - where domestic abuse still exists, where women feel powerless from not having any financial independence, where children will take the brunt of adult problems - is that it leads to the kinds of tragic outcomes Cagatay so intricately portrays as the broken Mehmet Ali.
Tragedy Of A Life Not Lived
The fragility of Mehmet's mind stems from choices his mother makes on his behalf, launching him into a traumatic life where his innocence was robbed from him. He keeps going back to the only home he knew, in a nicer part of town in Cihangir. Maybe he felt guilt that he couldn't protect his mother but he also felt despair that his mother couldn't protect him.
Showing up to the house with a wad of cash is with a sense of achievement that he has overcome so much and perhaps now can buy back time with his mother, and save his childhood. His need to resolve this childhood trauma is so great, that he is willing to endanger his life and forego his surgery if it means that he is able buy time with his mother.
In his soulful song, Muslum Gurses sings,
"To loves that remain unfinished
To my borrowed smile
To dying before getting to live life
I have an objection"
In addition to all the pains Mehmet absorbs, perhaps these words describe him the most. A life on the streets cost him his health but his soul died a long time ago. His bucket list contains frivolous dreams except the one about finding his mother. His abandonment leaves such a big hole that it remains an unfinished love story. He laughs and bickers with his brothers, but these are borrowed moments masking the hollow caverns within; a daily effort at a normalcy that seems forced. And the fact that he dies even before he could fully learn what living meant, is indeed very objectionable.
And these are the stories that should open questions in society about our family systems that get fractured by toxic patriarchy, or irresponsible maternal instincts. Questions about the responsibilities the greater society has in providing security to children like Mehmet who did not choose this life of squalor nor was he born into it. How do we care for them?
Towards the end, Gonzi says, "We tried to build our lives with what other people threw away." Not only did they try to find their treasures in the trash of other people's lives, some of them were what other people threw away.
Cagatay as Mehmet
Cagatay provides a superlative performance as Mehmet. Once we realize that little Ali was a figment of his imagination, rewatching his scenes with Ali makes his portrayal even more poignant. In their togetherness, he has unfiltered joy on his face, a bravado and sense of purpose that we expect to see in a well-adjusted adult. This is the reality he wants. He is a protector not at the mercy of anyone, he is powerful at removing the threat of an abusive stepfather, he is worthy of reuniting a child with his mother.
We also see his panicked despair each time he thinks Ali has disappeared. He believes Ali has fallen prey to the unthinkable dangers he himself overcame when he was on the streets, he wants to protect Ali and hold him with the gentle regard a traumatized child like Ali deserves. When Ali awakens from his glue sniffing episode, he is a hardened resolved child, transformed from the innocence of the little Ali who just wanted to save his mother. Mehmet's psyche begins to break again with this episode, as Ali's transformation mirrors all the ways Mehmet was forced to change without ever being able to give up the vision of his mother. Even in his last moments as he stumbles back towards Mucadele Cikmazi, the street of his adopted home, and submits to the rains knowing it will be his death knell, he fingers his lone photo with his mother, a touch of the only real love he feels he had in life.
Cagatay's every gesture and emotion is measured and metered perfectly for what the role demands throughout Mehmet's expansive journey. A beautiful performance for a character well-written, and we hope Cagatay receives the kind of international recognition he deserves for his turn as Mehmet Ali.
Article (c) CUNA & mh musings
All photos either belong to their respective owners or are property of Netflix. No copyright infringement is intended. Please ask for permission before reprints.
A spoiler-free review by mh-musings
Paper Lives (“Kagittan Hayatlar”) dropped on Netflix at midnight, and it is a gritty but cinematic tale of the lives we often overlook within our bustling city lives, the glittering lights and splendor masking the patina of despair that underscores it. The opening scenes masterfully establish this juxtaposition by showing the stark contrast between the rich and famous and the street ‘people’ who take on the thankless task of keeping the city clean. Instead of continuing the thread of this contrast, the movie makes an immediate segue into the lives of such people, exploring their hopes and dreams in a most artistic way.
The story revolves around Mehmet, the manager of a local waste warehouse, who is gravely ill and in the need of a kidney transplant. He is loved and revered by all the street kids and waste collectors in their ‘zone’, and they are all under the protection of Tahsin Baba, an elderly gentleman who has been their mentor within the grime and squalor of their rundown neighborhood. A host of homeless children and young men, who have obviously grown up on the streets, make up the army of garbage collectors, who get paid for the pounds of trash they deposit at the warehouse. Mehmet has gone from being feet on the street to managing the warehouse, presumably because his illness gets exacerbated through the physical exertion of pulling such heavy weights on uneven streets, often in inclement weather. He still sometimes enjoys going out to collect the trash, visiting old haunts along the way.
One evening, his best friend Gonzi (aka Gonzalez) veers into a zone patronized by a different group of rag tag, brutish trash collectors, but he is able to get away with glee. After his trash is weighed along with the rest of the local troupes’ stash, everyone is paid their share and sent home. Alone, Mehmet investigates scuffling noises coming from Gonzi’s cart, and a little boy drops out. He is Ali, a battered young boy frequently beaten by his stepfather, and his mother has put him in the cart to save him from the brutality. Mehmet is immediately drawn to him and takes him under his wing, with promises to reunite him with his mother. As he undertakes this journey, Mehmet is confronted by the truths of his own traumatic childhood that forces him to accept an agonized destiny.
For those of us seduced by the art of Turkish storytelling, Paper Lives is the first Netflix Turkish original movie that weaves in the human side of the Turkish strength of family bonds, whether it is shown through the power of a mother’s love in absentia or through the ways these abandoned children bond together to create a sense of family. The social hierarchy is displayed through the reverence with which everyone refers to each other. Mehmet is ‘abi’ to most and well known in the neighborhood, Tahsin Baba remains the spiritual and moral mentor to all. The characters blend well into the tapestry woven for their lives, speaking in profanity laden street slang.
The neighborhood is a personality in and of itself, with a sense of abandonment embedded in the neglect of the grim buildings, rife with graffiti and dilapidated fixtures. It is unlike the expansive, imposing vistas we see in the usual dizi fare, and almost depicts the underbelly of the city that wishes to be known but remain ignored in mainstream media.
Masterfully rising above the danger of being overwhelmed with the visual onslaught of the unexpected, what triumphs is the rich dialogue and delivery from a talented cast, enhanced by a subtly detailed cinematography which makes the mundane be full of meaning. The cinematic experience in its entirety invites an introspection about how our choices, or lack thereof, shape our destiny while scarring the innocence of childhood, often beyond redemption.
One of the most poignant dialogues is delivered at a dinner table where the troupe is gathered in celebration. After candles on the cake are blown, Mehmet asks the children what their wishes are, and unsurprisingly the top one is to find their mother, mirroring Mehmet’s own from his bucket list for life. One child mildly says his wish is to die. As silence falls around the table, he explains that his reason is so that his deceased mother will still recognize him when they reunite in the afterlife.
From having a bucket list that also includes riding in a convertible in addition to uniting with his mother, to teetering on the verge of collapse as Mehmet waits for a kidney transplant, the power of the story of these abandoned children is captured beautifully in the song “Itirazim Var” by Muslum Gurses that plays on the radio when Mehmet is returning from his first stint at the hospital during the opening credits:
“I have an objection to my cruel destiny
I have an objection to this endless agony
To the fickle finger of fate
To the blows dealt by life
To every single trouble
I have an objection
To loves that remain unfinished
To my borrowed smile
To dying before getting to live life
I have an objection”
The realism woven into the script, which explores and delivers such profound thoughts without much fanfare is the hallmark of great cinema. The story has a surprising twist at the end but it is perfectly done such that it encapsulates the entire narrative into a soulful patchwork that will invite a second look at each and every frame. The glory of a story and its characters are often not in the formulaic rags to riches story but in the ways we are allowed to unravel a character to understand the intricacies of his joys and sorrows, either through visual clues, the actors’ portrayal or the screenplay. All of this is beautifully done at the hands of artistes who are masters of their craft.
Cagatay Ulusoy, who is also a creative producer for the project, dons a new avatar for this movie, far from the polished heroes he has played thus far. This is a subject matter close to his heart as he had also worked on a short film on the homeless when in film school in Los Angeles a few years ago. The range of emotions he captures as Mehmet, from one who commands attention to one who remains deeply unfulfilled, is portrayed so artfully that it is easy to join him on his physical, emotional and spiritual journey throughout the movie. This is yet another transformational role delivered by Cagatay, last seen on the screens as larger than life superhero in Netflix’s The Protector. He keeps reinventing himself with each of his projects, and Paper Lives is merely the latest in the bleeding edge of his multitude of talents.
Young Emir Ali Dogrul shows his promise as an actor in his depiction of a traumatized child whose eyes still fill with wonder from the joy of seeing a chocolate cake with glowing candles. He is delightful as Ali.
Having never watched Ersin Arici previously, his turn as Gonzalez is incredibly affecting and perfect, providing the backbone to the fluidity of the story in the most meaningful way. The way Gonzi and Mehmet are bonded within their adopted family is understatedly exquisite.
Veteran actor Turgay Tanulku as Tahsin Baba doesn’t have a lot of screen time but what he brings is the necessary gravitas of a wise old man who has learnt the realities of life, and has long since lost the desire to have others conform to his ways. A social activist in real life who has supported juvenile rehabilitation for decades, Mr. Tanulku does full justice to a memorable character who absorbs the sorrows of his wards and attempts to allow them to find some charm and meaning in their destitute lives.
Paper Lives is directed by the adept hands of Can Ulkay, who has only turned to this craft as late as 2017 and yet his natural talents for building a frame with meticulous attention to detail and a sense of grandiose visual aesthetic is evident in each and every project. One of his very first projects, Ayla: The Daughter of War, was the Turkish entry for the Academy Awards in 2018, and he has only bettered his craft in Paper Lives. From the expansive, torn battlefields of South Korea in Ayla to the myopic world of the neighborhood around a street named Mucadele Cikmazi in Paper Lives, Mr. Ulkay is simply masterful. The movie originally titled Struggle Alley (“Mucadele Cikmazi”) was only recently retitled to Paper Lives (Kagittan Hayatlar).
Mr. Ulkay’s 2018 film Muslum was a biopic on Turkish folk singer Muslum Gurses, whose song features in the opening credits of Paper Lives, mentioned above. It is these details, subtle individually but magnificent in its entirety, that make the production one to remember. The viewing is enhanced by the rich script by Ercan Mehmet Erdem, best known for his work on the gritty police show Behzat C., and what the audience gets is a multidimensional cinematic experience that leaves us with questions posed within a slice of Turkish life, but that really transcends all borders.
At a little over two hours, Paper Lives offers a tight narrative that cover a lot of ground if you are looking for it. From the physical characters to the visual and the insinuated, it is an unexpected exploration of a very male perspective of abandonment and the castles built in the sky to overcome the resulting voids. There is only one major female actor, Selen Ozturk, who plays multiple faces of a woman and it is an interesting detail that underlines the power of a mother in our lives, and how she can define the shape of all other women in a man’s life.
I will not give away any other spoilers for the movie but invite you to give it a watch. Even if you do not have any history with Turkish drama, you will appreciate the social thought experiments launched through the narrative and will come to understand why the expressive Turkish male characters resonate so strongly with a globally thriving, predominantly female audience for the fare. Here is the trailer for those of you who might not have seen it yet:
Article copyright North America Ten, CUNA & mh.
The article first appeared on our parent site: https://www.northamericaten.com/netflix-paper-lives-review/www.northamericaten.com/netflix-paper-lives-review/
After much anticipation by fans, the trailer for Paper Lives has been released, and it looks amazing. The movie will stream on Netflix on March 12, 2021.
Paper Lives [film] – Starring Cagatay Ulusoy, together with Emir Ali Dogrul, the film is directed by the talented Can Ulkay (Ayla) and produced by OGM Pictures. OGM Pictures/ founder Onur Guvenatam was also behind The Protector. The script is brought to life by Ercan Mehmet Erdem (Behzat C.). More details here.
Netflix summary says "In the streets of Istanbul, ailing waste warehouse worker Mehmet takes a small boy under his wing and must soon confront his own traumatic childhood." The following screenshot shows the genre it is listed under.
With the soulful acting from the veritable Cagatay Ulusoy, paired with the strength of script and the aesthecism director Can Ulkay imbibes in each and every screen, this promises to be a heart-touching story.
This will be the second Netflix original Turkish movie, and Netflix's second collaboration with production house O3 Medya/ OGM Pictures. Most of the Turkish Netflix originals thus far have been a single or multi-season series. One earlier film, Leyla Everlasting, had middling response as it is far removed from the typical Turkish fare focusing on social issues of family, love, brotherhood and more.
The lead actor in Paper Lives Cagatay was also the lead actor in the first Netflix original Turkish series The Protector and, once again, he leads the charge with the first movie focused on a very Turkish story, with both productions backed by Onur Guvenatam's companies - O3 Medya for The Protector, and OGM Pictures for Paper Lives.
Fans are awaiting excitedly for the debut of the movie, which is not only a visual treat, but also addresses deep social issues for the homeless and how many of them can end up that way. In 2016, there were reports of Cagatay producing a short-film called Home, that focused on the homeless in Los Angeles. Clearly this is a subject that he has thought deeply about and to be able bring this movie to the screens seems it is a labor of love as much as it is a creative outlet.
With millions of Cagatay fans across the globe, we expect this movie project to be just as successful as The Protector proved to be, which not only had more than 10 million views in its first four weeks of the first season, but also made it in the WSJ top 10 most streamed international series as reported by Deadline Hollywood.
Wishing luck to everyone on the team!
Article (c) CUNA
Check out these US news outlets for coverage on Paper Lives:
Hidden Remote: 5 new Netflix Movies to Watch in March 2021
Screen Realm: ‘Paper Lives’ Trailer: Raising a Homeless Child in Turkish Netflix Film
PopSugar: Clear Your Schedule For The 11 New Netflix Movies Premiering In March