Friday, April 27, 2012

Review | Turkish history without subtlety

Turkish history without subtlety
By Mark Jenkins
Friday, Apr. 27, 2012

"Making history is no job for cowards," announces the hero of "Fetih 1453," a Turkish war epic that's awash in virility. Even the movie's principal female character, who poses as a guy to help her adoptive father build state-of-the-art cannons, exemplifies manly virtue.

Battle flicks are big on bravery, of course, and this account of the Turkish conquest of Constantinople doesn't stint on courageous self-sacrifice. For every soul-stirring clash, however, there's at least one laugh-out-loud moment. Making history may require only bravado, but making historical movies demands subtlety as well.

The 1453 fall of Constantinople, legend has it, was foretold by Muhammad. So the movie begins with the announcement of Islam's prophet - not actually shown, since that would be blasphemous - that the Orthodox Christian city will fall. It's left to young Sultan Mehmet II (Devrim Evin), a classic overachiever, to fulfill the prediction some 800 years later.

"Fetih 1453" was cut by 25 minutes for American release, but there are still plenty of preliminaries. Relying heavily on CGI, director Faruk Aksoy swoops from Mehmet's court to Constantinople, Genoa, the Vatican and other grand places, introducing the political powers that support or,, more likely, oppose the sultan's ambitions. When the locale is Christian, the filmmakers helpfully emblazon just about every piece of clothing and furniture with a cross.

The combat scenes that rouse the last third of the movie employ thousands of people (or their digital avatars). But, like most such epics, "Fetih 1453" focuses on just a few players. In addition to Mehmet, there's his friend and sword-fighting coach Hasan (Ibrahim Celikkol), an exemplary warrior who's guaranteed the spotlight during the final battle.

Hasan loves Era (Dilek Serbest), who was sold into slavery but freed by weapon-maker Urban (Erdogan Aydemir). Era keeps spurning Hasan's proposals, but once they become comrades in arms, her attraction to him grows. There's even a kiss, although the movie is careful about such things. Scantily clad dancing girls are kept on the Christian side of the beaded curtain, and Mehmet is reduced to a single wife. (The historical sultan had a few more.)

The movie's English subtitles sometimes fail it, and perhaps some wit was lost in translation. Given the stilted acting, though, it seems likely that the dialogue is just as clunky in the original. Even Turkish audiences probably giggle when Mehmet solemnly instructs troops headed to a brutal war to "have a safe trip."

Contains bloody violence. In Turkish with English subtitles.

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