Violence, language, loss in grim, compelling Turkish drama.
No reviews yet.Add your rating
No reviews yet.Add your rating
Common Sense is a nonprofit organization. Your purchase helps us remain independent and ad-free.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Paper Lives is a dark film with some violent and difficult scenes and themes that could upset some viewers. The main characters are trash collectors who grew up living on the street, fleeing abusive homes or absent parents. They've formed a makeshift family, where they watch out for each other, celebrate nonexistent birthdays, and defend each other's interests. Flashback scenes show a small boy being abused, while the man who takes in a bruised boy seems to be channeling his own feelings of abandonment and loss of hope into his new charge. That man is very ill and awaiting a kidney transplant. We see him faint, vomit, and writhe in pain due to his failing health, which also lands him in the ER more than once. In one dialysis scene, he rips a tube out of his arm and splatters blood everywhere; his friend has to climb on top of him to hold him down. Fights among men involve punching, kicking, knives, and sticks. A man is found dead in the street. Kids get high sniffing glue. Adults drink alcohol, sometimes to excess, and smoke cigarettes and cigars. Language in English subtitles on the Turkish-language film includes "f--k," "s--t," "ass," "dammit," "bastard," "jerk," "idiot," "nut job," "piss/pee," and "God."
There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.
What's the Story?
Mehmet (Çagatay Ulusoy) is the ailing manager of a waste collection warehouse in the slums of Istanbul in PAPER LIVES (Kagittan Hayatlar in the original Turkish version). Having grown up on the streets himself, he acts as a sort of mentor to the many street kids in the area. In turn, a father figure known as Uncle Tahsin (Turgay Tanülkü) looks after him and his best friend, Gonzales (Ersin Arici). Mehmet needs the support as his health is increasingly worsening while he awaits and saves up for an expensive kidney transplant. One day a little boy, Ali (Emir Ali Dogrul), appears at the warehouse, apparently sent away by his mom to escape his abusive stepfather. Mehmet dives into caring for the boy with a passion, jeopardizing his own health and other friendships in his obsession to do right by the boy. When it becomes clear that he cannot keep Ali, he tries to take him home to his mother, and the story takes a new twist.
Is It Any Good?
This melodrama from Turkey features some great performances, a moving storyline with a surprise ending, and intriguing glimpses of life in Istanbul. Central to the film, and what sustains interest from start to finish, is the sweet relationship between the main characters of Paper Lives (also known as Struggling Alley, the telling name of the street Mehmet lives on). Ulusoy does a stirring job embodying an ailing man with a traumatic background whose seeming last gasp at happiness comes in the form of the adorable Ali. They must have had to rough up the well-known TV actor and model a bit to pull off playing a sick man struggling to make ends meet in an Istanbul slum. His best friend and frequent caretaker, Gonzi, is played by the charismatic Arici, who leads a festive song-and-dance scene at the local baths.
The look of the film is purposefully dark, though even the slums -- full of squatters and kids sniffing glue -- are bright and colorful during the day, bathed in Mediterranean light. The city of Istanbul is an additional character here, a study in contrasts -- edged by lapping waves, connected by modern bridges, dotted with Parisian-looking cafes, called to prayer across loudspeakers. This is a place where, in this telling, males endearingly call each other "brother" yet swarms of boys apparently live on the street, abandoned, sometimes fleeing abuse, drawn to dabbling in drugs. A recurring theme in the film is the need boys and men feel for a loving, protective mother figure. Atmospheric traditional music also sets the mood in several scenes, including one melancholic sequence driving away from the ER while a voice on the radio sings, "I have an objection to my cruel destiny ... to this endless agony." The musician captures Mehmet's feelings exactly.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
How would you describe what happened to Mehmet in Paper Lives? Did the film's ending surprise you? Why, or why not?
How does the cinematographer show the contrasts of the city of Istanbul in this film? Can you think of any specific examples?
What do you know about the geography, history, culture, and language of Turkey? Where could you go for more information?
How was music used in this film to capture the mood of various scenes? Can you describe any specific examples?
- On DVD or streaming: March 12, 2021
- Cast: Çagatay Ulusoy, Emir Ali Dogrul, Ersin Arici
- Director: Can Ulkay
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship
- Run time: 97 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
Our Editors Recommend
Powerful, gritty Lebanese drama shows kids in danger.
Adorable kid transforms womanizer in poignant Oscar winner.
Japanese drama about unconventional family has mature themes
The Pursuit of Happyness
Inspirational but often emotionally wrenching story.
The Sixth Sense
Great, but sometimes scarier than R-rated horror.
For kids who love dramas
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate