Burhan Ozbilici, Associated Press
ISTANBUL — Turkey is on a roll these days, uplifted by economic growth and regional diplomacy. Now comes a film to boost the feel-good mood, an epic about the 15th century fall of Constantinople that fuses national pride with Hollywood-style ambition.
"Fetih 1453," or "Conquest 1453," casts good guys (read Muslim Ottomans) against bad guys (aka Christian Byzantines), transforming a clash of empires and religions into a duel between right and wrong. The capture of what is today Istanbul set the stage for centuries of Ottoman rule over the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe.
Director Faruk Aksoy's $17 million extravaganza, Turkey's most expensive movie, is not just a popularized account of history, spiked with romance, swordplay and gaudy costumes. It also matches a modern identity that elevates an imperial past once held in disdain, and reinforces faith, ethnicity and a message of tolerance in an often contradictory brew.
Turkey eludes easy definition. It looks eastward, projecting soft power across an unstable region, but it is part of NATO and a candidate for European Union membership. Its biggest city, Istanbul, is divided between the Asian and European continents. Its population is mostly Muslim; the constitution is secular.
So many Turks look to history, or at least a comfortable version of it, for a reassuring answer to the question: Who are we?
Films from Turkey have done well at international festivals for years. But "Conquest 1453" is something new, a homegrown echo of "Troy," ''300" and other dramas that pit ancient civilizations against each other in panoramic, digitally enhanced scenes of blood-soaked glory.
The Turkish film lacks the polish and crossover appeal of a global hit. However, it has broken Turkish box office records since opening two weeks ago. It was released in some European countries, including Germany, home to a large ethnic Turkish minority, and producers say it will be shown in the Middle East and elsewhere later this month.
The film tells of Sultan Mehmet II, a national icon today, and his 50-day siege of Constantinople, the last bastion of the Byzantine empire. It depicts real events: the raising of a giant chain across the entrance to the Golden Horn inlet to block Ottoman ships, the overland transfer of Ottoman vessels on wooden rollers to the harbor, and the construction of a monster cannon to punch holes in the city walls.
The movie indulges in caricature. The Ottomans are devout and resolute; the Byzantine emperor, Constantine, and his aides drink and lounge with women in wispy outfits. When Mehmet finally enters the gates, he tells cowering Orthodox Christians that they are free to worship.
They smile in wide-eyed, wondrous gratitude. Then the sultan, just 21 years old when Constantinople fell, hoists and kisses a child like a modern politician angling for the cameras.
While the Ottomans exercised a religious tolerance generally lacking in Europe at the time, the movie does not mention the sacking of Constantinople — a ritual event cut short by Mehmet — nor the edict that turned the soaring Haghia Sophia church into a mosque. Today, it is a museum, and worship is barred.
The film's publicist, Filiz Ocal, said in an email that it had rectified a "very important deficiency" because the Turkish public had yearned for such a portrayal, and that every nation wants to introduce its "magnificent achievements" to the world.
"It is a production for us that focuses on one of the most important stages of the rise of a people, who again have started to rise on history's stage," critic Atilla Dorsay wrote in Turkey's Sabah newspaper. However, he said the movie got stuck "in some excessive nationalism and nationalist propaganda in some places."
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