Mucize (Turkish movie)
“Mucize” (pronounced moo-jee-zay), meaning Miracle, is a Turkish movie produced in 2015. It is available on Netflix with English subtitles. It never won any awards, and only gathered 69% on Rotten Tomatoes. However, it was popular enough to spur the production of a Miracle 2: Love in 2019.
It’s not difficult to see why. The scenery is spectacular. The cultural insights, fabulous, and even hilarious. The plot might be called cheesy if it weren’t simply a true story.
It is 1961. We follow a school teacher from Izmir (incidentally a gorgeous seaside city known previously as Smyrna) who has been transferred for a two-year service to a mountain village in a region infested with bandits, leaving behind his wife and two daughters. The teacher, Mahir, travels by train, then on a wobbly bus all the way into the mountains, only to be told at the last stop that he has to walk across two more mountains to reach the village.
Exhausted, but still striving to look professional, Mahir confronts the barrage of rifles from the astounded villagers by introducing himself as “The Teacher”. Immediately turning hospitable and welcoming, the men inform him that they are thankful the government has finally sent them a teacher after 30 years, but has forgotten to build them a school. Mahir and the mukhtar (village leader) go to town to ask the regional official for a school. On the way, they come across a cavalcade of bandits. Mahir shakes with fear, but the two villagers salute them. “They’re our sons,” they explain. The mayor or governor is not interested in their request. The short answer is no. The long one: the prime minister just got assassinated, so forget about it, everything will be put on hold for a while. Mahir decides to go home, but after a sleepless night, decides to help the village. He calls home and asks his wife, who has a rich father, to send 2,000 liras as ransom as he has been kidnapped by bandits.
The mukhtar agrees to allow girls to attend school (“whatever for?”) in exchange for the school. Unexpectedly, the bandits join the villagers in building it, and soon, school opens, complete with uniforms, benches, and flag.
The day of the wedding, the groom awaits the bride’s procession standing on the rooftop and throwing petals (I think) down. The women ululate. Upon entering the bridal room, the bride throws a ceramic jar down and breaks it (not sure of its significance). The groom enters and grabs a dove, then breaks its neck, to show his dominance. He then lifts the bride’s veil and sees her face for the first time. This is where the groom’s reaction is funniest. The first groom in the story asked for good teeth, but the girl had numerous and severe caries on brown and yellow teeth. Really, he needn’t have been so shocked, because his own teeth weren’t that great either. Nor for that matter anyone else’s teeth in the whole village. This makes one wonder. If it is true that teeth rot because of too much sugar, then it couldn’t have been the reason for the entire village to have bad teeth. After all, they didn’t have much sugar available at all.
Eventually, we realize that the real protagonist in this story is not Mahir, but Aziz, the village idiot. He wanders about with the children often having fun beating him up or even throwing stones at him. His hair and beard are long and disheveled. Apparently, he was born with some spastic disorder affecting mainly his left arm and leg, but also causing him to have difficulty producing sounds. Although he has occasional weird behaviors, such as running around naked to avoid a hot bath, we suspect that his brain functions normally. It is a common human tendency to assume people who cannot speak as well as we do must be more stupid than we are. Something all immigrants experience. So if you can only squeeze out grunts and shrieks, you must be mentally defective.
In fact, Mahir encourages him to come to school, learn to use a pencil, and start drawing. A fast learner despite his physical handicap, Aziz starts trying to speak, and eventually his behavior becomes tamer. A major turning point occurs when Aziz’s father helps avert a shooting in town. The man whose life he saves offers his daughter in marriage to the mukhtar’s son, even though he is told, three times, that the son is handicapped. Though the union has been agreed upon by the fathers, the women still go through the motion of matchmaking. They are stunned to find out the girl is perfect, neither with bad teeth nor cross-eyed. The mother gets tears in her eyes.
The father of the bride has obviously not informed his daughter of the groom’s handicap. She’s stunned on her wedding day and cannot stop her tears falling. Aziz lifts her veil and falls over when he sees her face. Eventually, the bride (Mizgin) comes to terms with her fate and takes good care of Aziz. However, not only do the young men in the village keep teasing him, now even the young women join in and mock her publicly. One day, she turns and flees home, sobbing that she just cannot take it anymore. Aziz is overwhelmed and rides off on his stallion to the edge of the cliff where he releases his paper airplane and seems to consider suicide. Mahir arrives and coaxes him back home.
Aziz, who is now able to squeak out words, albeit with great difficulty, dictates a letter to Mahir. He and Mizgin leave the village, explaining that for years, he accepted the teasing and even beatings from the children, but he cannot accept the treatment doled out to his wife. He states that one day they will return.
Indeed, seven years later, a car rolls into the village, bringing not only an older Mahir and his wife, but also a well-dressed, straight and well-groomed Aziz and his wife, as well as a 6 year-old boy and a baby girl. Aziz speaks perfectly and walks normally by himself. His stunned parents ask whether he had surgery. “No,” he replies, “I fell in love with my wife.”
So, what is the movie really about? The title tells it all: Miracle. Was the miracle Aziz’s improvement? I don’t think so. The miracle was a very simple event: the arrival of a well-meaning Teacher into the village. An agent of change. Aziz was the most obvious miracle, true, but other miracles happened along the way: the building of a school, the education of girls, and even the rehabilitation of bandits. Yes, the bandit son who’d run away after killing someone who was threatening his father gave himself up to the authorities. The judge sentenced him to 24 years in prison, but reduced the sentence to just four years, because of extenuating circumstances. The greatest miracle, of course, is the change in the villagers’ mindset.
In fact, becoming a bandit was a secondary way of life in the mountains, a way to escape the authorities or the crippling poverty in the villages. One wonders, were they also escaping the traditions?
If you’re a believer, you can see the hand of God in giving the “worst”-endowed young man the “prettiest” bride, but mostly in the miraculous fact that this bride becomes devoted to her husband. The ending leaves us with so many questions. What disease did Aziz have? Was physiotherapy the simple answer to his cure? Where did they spend those seven years? What job did Aziz have in the city?
A quick search for Mucize 2: Ask (love) tells me I will find the answer in this sequel. Guess what I’m doing this evening?