The plain and honest depiction of simple people is what makes Yılmaz Erdoğan’s film “A Jolly Life/Neşeli Hayat” a good film. It is a comedy-drama but gets its main strength from its dramatic life story of Turkish people who have moved into İstanbul from Anatolia but are struggling in a merciless giant city.
Erdoğan’s film is centered on Rıza’s struggle to survive. Rıza loses his job, and then becomes part of a Ponzy scheme (a pyramid scheme) by selling some health products and encouraging his friends in his neighbourhood to do the same believing that they will be able to buy their own villas in the end; however, he hits rock bottom and loses everything, including his friends, when the Health Ministry bans the import of these products into Turkey. Rıza ends up working as Santa Claus in a big shopping mall for a month just to entertain children of a toy shop.
“A Jolly Life/Neşeli Hayat” can be interesting for the foreign audience who would like to find something about contemporary Turkey.
The gigantic shopping mall where Rıza works as Santa Claus appears as the right setting to emphasize how lonely, desperate and isolated individuals can be in the urban space. However, it also shows how an individual like Rıza has to fight to survive. The shopping mall includes people from all walks of life but it may also increase the distance between them, minimizing the real interaction; people just come, do their work and go. The huge columns and the huge windows of the mall intensify the “smallness” of people like Rıza in a city like İstanbul.
Rıza’s neighborhood forms a contrast to the shopping mall imagery used in the film. It encourages us to get into the lives of people – probably most have migrated from rural Turkey. Yılmaz Erdoğan is a good observer of people and life so the details in the depiction of these people’s lives are very rich. Each of the characters in the neighbourhood depicted is indeed real, each revealing something about contemporary Turkey.
Many Turkish film critics have positive reviews of the film and say that “A Jolly Life/Neşeli Hayat” is the most plain but the best film in Erdogan’s filmography. They also compare the film to Frank Capra’s “It’s a wonderful life” (1946) in that it shows however insignificant an individual (Rıza, in this case) can be, he can still make a difference.
“A Jolly Life/Neşeli Hayat” is a warm and sentimental film. Its richness is in its details and the performances.