Magical realism is something many directors have toiled with. Many have been successful in putting together a good movie, but there are movies that just fell flat in the execution of this genre. There is Forrest Gump and Midnight in Paris, which beautifully use magic realism, and one would want any other film in this genre to follow in their footsteps. Meanwhile, there is “Oh Belinda,” which tries hard to bring this beautiful genre back to life but falls flat quite early in the runtime of the film. Why is that? “Oh Belinda” is a Turkish-language comedy-drama that is a Netflix Original and was released on the platform on April 7, 2023.
Like any movie that showcases the life of a superstar actress, the film must begin with a montage of them being in a movie or shooting for a movie. “Oh Belinda” begins with Dilara’s life being projected as larger than anybody else’s, and she is now a part of not just a music video but also of a play that puts a stamp on Dilara being a fantastic actress, and one with a bright future. Dilara Basaran is one of the leading actresses in the industry, and she has been leading a comfortable life so far. She has films and commercials lined up, which proves her popularity among the crowd in Turkey. Dilara has nothing to worry about professionally except that her frenemy Arzu is trying to upstage her at every given point.
Dilara has been made the brand ambassador of a shampoo brand named Belinda, and she is appalled by the kind of story the ad makers have developed to sell the brand. After going through the script, she is not sure if she wants to do the commercial at all, but her crew informs her of the money the brand spent on her. Dilara agrees to be a part of the commercial reluctantly and thus begins their shoot. At the shoot, she is constantly badgered by her male co-actor about the fact that he is enamored to be paired with an actress as beautiful as her. Dilara is visibly disturbed by his borderline assault-type behavior, but she can keep him at bay. As the shoot begins, Dilara is unable to nail the scene as per the director’s instructions. The director, being her friend, explains to her one last time in detail what he expects from Handan, the woman who is tired after a long day at work, and the only thing that relaxes her is a hair wash with Belinda Shampoo.
As Dilara immerses herself in the character of Handan, she opens her eyes after the shot to see herself not on the set but in someone else’s bathroom. She notices the man who was her real-life husband, Necati, in the commercial; he now claims to be her husband in real life. And her name is not Dilara but Handan from the commercial. Dilara is confused to see what is happening around her, and she assumes it is a prank being pulled on her. She meets her friends from the film industry, who fail to recognize her, including her boyfriend Serkan, who is now with Arzu. Losing her mind rather quickly while watching these things unfold in front of her eyes, Dilara, who is now Handan, is slowly coming to terms with the fact that she has entered a parallel world where her life and identity are different. Will Dilara, who is now Handan, settle down in this life, or will she rebel hard enough and hope some miracle will take her back to her old life?
This film gives us a peek into how a popular actress, who had her pride, allegiance, and fan following, has been suddenly reduced to someone she never wanted to be. It is not a lesson learned for her; it is just a change of scenario. A scenario she never expected to be in. Dilara is a happy and independent woman who knows she has earned all her fame and fortune from her hard work, and she does not let anyone make her feel bad for her success. The 180-degree flip in life made her realize that life throws unexpected things at her. One can only live through it to understand and experience it. Dilara/Handan’s character has not been shamed for being popular and independent, but it shows how she fights the rampant patriarchy where Handan is expected to work full time at office and at home, she will have to take care of the family and the kitchen, with no responsibility on the husband. Despite Handan marrying into a traditional family, Dilara’s version of Handan wants to break away from it and do her own thing, which is to pursue her love for acting.
All of this is covered aptly by the writer Hakan Bonomo, who is trying to tell the story from a female perspective. The writer does a decent job of talking about what women go through in a middle-class family setting, something of which Dilara was unaware until she experienced it. But the issue remains that the complexity and the fact that Dilara hates being a middle-class married woman are not well explained. Was it something to do with her childhood or any experience in the past that made her decide not to live a traditional life? A solid backstory for Dilara would have made her disdain for married life narrative strong and believable. Here, the story by Hakan remained one-toned, and there was no complexity given to Dilara’s character. The direction suffered because the narrative of Dilara wanting to get out of this nightmarish situation kept repeating itself with no end in sight. Even with a running time of close to 120 minutes, the narrative started dragging right from the point where Dilara had an angry outburst in front of her newfound family. The direction by Deniz Yorulmazer was decent enough to keep the entire movie intact, but again, it suffered because of a screenplay that was on a loop of its own and did not come out of it until the end of the film.
The magic realism touch that the writer and the director tried to bring to life on screen did not work out either because the screenplay lacked the depth to understand the issue the lead character is going through. The crisis must come through to understand why the lead’s mind took this person through this cathartic journey and back, which was not seen in this film at all. The lack of emotions led to this movie becoming a bland viewing experience as a whole. The performance of the lead actress, Neslihan Atagül, as Dilara/Handan was good but not good enough to keep the entire film intact and interesting. It is not the fault of the actress but of the character that was written on paper, which did not bring out the complexity of her nature. This surely affected the performance, which again made the film watchable.
“Oh Belinda” could have been a lot more interesting if the movie had a slightly longer running time that would have helped the writer and the director to explore Dilara even more as a person. The film is just watchable enough if you have two hours from your busy life to spare watching a film that explores the life of a privileged woman who cries for help the moment she sees a crisis.