One movie was quite the buzz on these long days of confinement and you know which one I'm talking about. You might not be familiar with a director named Mehmet Ada Öztekin or actor Aras Bulut Iynemli, but you've probably heard of a Turkish movie that moved people to tears and through a viral word-of-mouth, ended up reaching you. It's called "7. Kogustaki Mucize but for a better readability, we'll call it "Miracle in Cell. 7". It's a remake of the South-Korean movie of the same name; but while the original was a comedy-drama, "Miracle" (as we'll call it) is straight drama, sometimes even melodrama but I'm not going to take it as a criticism. Some movies manipulate their audiences, "Miracle" is just good at making you feel sad.
Speaking for myself, I became aware of this movie existence one month ago, from friends and relatives. I heard that the film was extremely emotional, the story was about a mentally-ill father wrongly accused for a murder and whose imprisonment put him away from his beloved daughter. Yes, it's the kind of film that had everything to put even the most hardened or cynical of us into tears, but being confined was tough enough to need another reminder of the cruelty of life. Recently, I asked my students to write reviews about movies that impacted them and three of them wrote about "Miracle" and I couldn't rate them if I didn't see the film. Watching it wasn't just a matter of curiosity but a professional necessity.
And so I watched it and I'd better warn those who didn't: it's a difficult film. Memo is what we would call the "village idiot", he might be mentally challenged but his heart if full of an undying love for his bright and lovely daughter Ova. The mother died when giving her birth. It seems obvious that Memo's grandmother raised Ova while taking care of him. When asked by Ova why his father behaves like that, her answer says it all "he's the same age than you" and that's the point: Memo is a child trapped in the body of a man, he's innocent in the purest meaning of the word, he can't harm, wouldn't harm. And that very handicap put him in situations where he can be perceived as a threat by "normal" people. When he wants to take the Heidi backpack from a girl, it's not against her but for the love of Ova.
On that level, the performance of Iynemil as Memo is incredible but painful to watch, we can always see he's ill but never dangerous except for himself. And it's difficult enough to see a man suffering for something he didn't do but even more difficult to realize that he'll never be able to claim his innocence. Who'd believe him anyway? So Memo is twice a victim, of his handicap and his bad luck. And that's the tragic irony of Memo: his handicap indirectly causes the accident but it's not even taken into consideration when he's accused of a murder. Memo is insane but can't even plead insanity. And as if karma wasn't cruel enough, the girl he "supposedly" killed is the daughter of a commander. This is Turkey in the early 80s, and one can imagine the hell a man accused of killing a child would go through in a Turkish prison (or any prison) but the commander wants Memo executed and orders that no harm should be done against him until his execution.
But the film is less about Memo (who can't do much in his position) than the people around him: Ova, her teacher, the grandmother and the prisoners from cell 7 who become like Memo's new family. And as times goes by, the cellmates start to wonder whether such a man, a father of a child, would really kill a little girl. Meanwhile, Ova is doing her investigation in order to find the only possible witness to the accident, to prove her father's innocence. Many things happen so we never get the impression of watching a quiet drama, there are many surprises and twists hidden beneath that simple plot. There even comes a point where the commander commits an action that shows he would rather have Memo executed than acquitted. It could be for political reasons or maybe he would better accept his daughter's death if someone was punished. As the plot progresses, we see men who only think in terms of crimes and punishments and had better not judge Memo so quickly and criminals who rediscover the humanity they thought had vanished and believe in redemption.
Maybe that's the ultimate message of "Miracle" if there's ever one, we should learn to respect a handicap and we're not good until we can see it, maybe "being good" is about the capability to see the good in everyone, it's called empathy or humanity.That's how Memo was from the start, seeing the good in every person and situation, he could be sad or angry but he would never harm anyone because he could still differentiate between the good and the evil. But the film is also a simply wonderful love story between a father and his daughter and the way their complicity (whose leitmotif was that "Lingo! Lingo!" game) illuminated the hearts of people and inspired their generosity.
Shall I say something about the ending? I'd rather not spoil it because the story has so many depths and secrets that maybe one viewing won't be enough to get the whole picture (especially if we're watching the original version with subtitles). Anyway, after the opening scene, you wouldn't expect a happy ending but I won't tell you if the ending is sad or happy or both, I will just tell you that it's a very satisfying ending and you won't forget this movie once you see it.