Memhet operates a landfill in one of istanbul’s outlying areas and its earnings come precisely from waste collection, which he entrusts to his large team. The boy is struggling with a serious health problem and needs a kidney transplant as soon as possible, but to date no available donor has been found and he is willing to continue his routine as if nothing had happened.
Mehmet’s life, which has a wish list to make – including finally getting to know his real mother – suddenly changes when he finds an eight-year-old boy, Ali, in one of the garbage bags. He claims to have been hidden there by his mother, with the aim of protecting him from the violence of his stepfather.
Despite the warnings of those closest to him, Mehmet becomes increasingly fond of the little one for whom he begins to develop a real obsession. His intent is now to make the new little friend’s childhood joyful and carefree, whatever it costs. But the pitfalls are obviously just around the corner.
Since the prologue, on a rainy night, you can breathe a gloomy despair, a pivotal element that characterizes the salient phases of the entire vision. Because Paper Lives is a film that does not discount, that avoids for the most part easy solutions and is able to exploit the themed rhetoric in an ambiguous and nuanced way, setting a series of alarm bells that drag the viewer towards an ending consistent with the psychological path crossed by the protagonist.
Director Can Ulkay, former author of the acclaimed Ayla (2017), stages here the bitterest portrait of a nation like Turkey, where certain neighborhoods are dominated by criminal logic and one has to make do day by day in the hope of surviving. Here, then, the story of Mehmet, and with him of little Ali, becomes a mirror of a country where behind the images of modernity there are still many chiaroscuri.
At some point the narrative actually risks paying for a certain monotony, especially when you understand the inexorable descent into madness and the weight of potential tragedy hangs more and more on the fate of the characters, but the limited minutes of an hour and a half and effective editing choices manage to avoid any time.
Landed in the Netflix catalog as original, Paper Lives sometimes ends up tearing itself too much into melodrama, with only a handful of lighter langoustines trying to sweeten the whole. The strength of the operation lies above all in the intense interpretation of Çagatay Ulusoy, ademptive in portraying an irritating figure worthy of compassion at the same time, alpha and omega of the entire construct.
Similarly, several mother scenes return a raw and painful fresco of certain realities, which are then found in many corners of the world with similar dynamics: it is no coincidence that to anticipate the opening credits there is a laconic phrase in superimposed, that is, “In a world where children cry, laughing can only be cruel”. A blatant statement of intent and emotional tension is, moreover, a constant, often probable and engaging, elsewhere less, with the film fully possessing its own clear personality, misleading and captivating in equal measure.
It is not the end of the world but certainly the reality where the protagonist lives is a kind of little hell on Earth, with the streets littered with children begging and violence on the agenda. Therefore, the personal mission undertaken by them takes on the connotations of a saving crusade, such as to break years of suffering and restore hope in the future. Paper Lives, a new Turkish-flagged Netflix original, is a psychological drama that gradually cloaks in unprecedented nuances as events flow – some more successful and shareable, others less so. The solid performances of the cast and the equally energetic direction of Can Ulkay allow you to turn a blind eye to these narrative smudges/forcings, giving life to pages of bleak decadence that strike hard with a modern, emphasized, neorealist look.