Paper Lives original title Genre Language Director
 Kağıttan Hayatla Drama Turkish Can Ulkay
Release date IMDb Rating; Length Writer
March 12, 2021 6.6/10 1 hr. 36 min Ercan Mehmet Erdem

Paper Lives Cast

  • Çağatay Ulusoy as Mehmet
  • Emir Ali Doğrul as Ali
  • Ersin Arıcı as Gonzales
  • Turgay Tanülkü as Tahsin
  • Selen Öztürk

Plot Summary of Paper Lives

A 2021 Turkish-origin movie starring Çağatay Ulusoy (Mehmet) as a waste cardboard collector and an orphan who grew up in the streets of Istanbul. He accidentally meets an eight-year-old homeless boy names Ali (Emir Ali Doğrul) and both develop an unbreakable bond.  Interestingly, the story takes twists and reveals the underlying secrets of Istanbul slums. Paper Lives is originally in the Turkish language with English subtitles and distributed by Netflix.

cardboards collectors in Paper Lives
credits; IMDb images

Award Nominations

It is pertinent to mention that Can Ulkay’s Paper Lives got two award nominations but couldn’t make it to the winner list owing to less attention from the jury perhaps? The film was nominated for the categories of “best movie” and “best actor” (Çağatay Ulusoy) for the Ayakli Gazete TV Stars Awards.

Mehmet holding Ali in Papaer Lives

Critics Remarks

Decider by New York Post remarked about Paper Lives that it “starts strong, holds on pretty well, then blows it hard at the end”. To avoid the spoiler, I will not mention that how it blew at the end. You better watch it.

How does Paper Lives Start and Take Off?

Interestingly, the movie in the start reveals that Mehmet (Çağatay Ulusoy) is a waste manager in Istanbul but not that he is an orphan too. Nevertheless, he works hard and burns midnight oil by collecting waste and selling it off. Albeit he is suffering from kidney disease and needs a transplant however he doesn’t take care of himself.

Even his friend Gonzales (Ersin Arıcı) is worried about his health and they end up in a hospital. Indeed, Mehmet is tough on himself because he is saving for his treatment.

Evidently, he is the owner of a waste warehouse and in the start, it seems he is a low-life and ridiculous character. Whereas, on the contrary, he is kindhearted and meticulously empathetic, especially towards the orphan fleet on the streets. The movie is perhaps called Paper Lives because Mehmet is a source of income for a lot of young boys who live in slums and involve in sniffing drugs.

The cohort of garbage collectors collects plastic bottles, cartons, cardboard, and other waste. They bring everything to the warehouse and Mehmet sells it off to the companies and earns. From that income, he pays the young fleet whatever they due to him.

How Mehmet Meets Ali?

Paper Lives contain scenes and shots that are gut-wrenching and move you to tears. It’s human behavior when you see injustice in society you feel pity for it. Similarly, Mehmet’s first encounter with Ali is the dark consequence of the abnormal social behavior of Ali’s stepfather.

Undoubtedly, Ulkay tackled the old concept of bitterness and despise of a stepfather toward his stepson but the consequential relationship it builds is wholly new.

ali first appearance in paper lives

Although Mehmet’s weary and geeky apartment is a projection of his warehouse yet, he lives peacefully there and minds his own business in Paper Lives. Suddenly, one night he notices some movement in a big garbage bag. In the spur of the moment, he rushes toward it thinking it has a cat inside but finds an eight-year-old scared kid.

Subsequently, Mehmet offers him food and covers the scars on his arm, and finds out the kid’s name is Ali. His heart cries when Ali tells Mehmet that his mother threw him in the garbage as it was the only solution to escape the brutalities of his stepfather. Besides depicting the discomfort realities of society Paper Lives also reveals a positive side of the community metaphorically in the form of Mehmet.

Gradually, both build a strong friendship and share the apartment. Obviously, Mehmet observes the reflection of his deprived childhood in Ali. He is determined to take care of Ali and reunite him with his mother. However, an elder and fatherly figure to Mehmet, Tahsin Baba (Turgay Tanülkü), tries to persuade Mehmet he must keep Ali. Sadly, soon Mehmet realizes he cannot keep Ali forever and the Paper Lives plot takes an interesting twist.

Mehmet and Ali happy together

Paper Lives Trailer

Certainly, the trailer puts a lively impact on you and the bright light in the streets of Istanbul makes you feel you are in Disney land. In contrast, it explores the lives of the middle-class and the marginalized community of Turkey who lives in the slums and dull apartments.