Valley of the wolves: a turkish film bitchslaps America
Religion is very important for many people. And everybody should respect the other person's religion. But sadly enough religion is often used to make people jump each other's throat. As the cartoon-issue about Mohammed has shown how sensitive religious issues are there's currently another issue moving people in Turkey and Germany, a film named 'Valley of the wolves' which is set in North Iraq and targets western countries, especially the USA and focuses on the clash of the religions Islam, Christianity and Judaism. In the first week over 1 million viewers in Turkey and 160.000 (on 68 screens) predominatly Turkish people living in Germany have already seen the film in theatres and the distributor is expecting that around 6 Million people altogether (the film plays in other European countries also) will watch this film. So far the film is a big hit in Germany especially with young Turkish men. And the Multiplex theatre I attended a 5pm screening even showed the film in the best and biggest hall they have. I saw the film with approx. 400 predominantly Turkish people, a totally different experience then previous screenings I attended with a crowd of Indian and Korean folks.
The film uses a real incident which happened back in 2003 when US soldiers disturbed a meeting of Turkish soldiers in North Iraq and humiliated them publicly by taking them out of the building with hoods put over their heads. Their excuse: this might have been a conspiratoial meeting of terrorists. It is suggested that the US did proceed like that as Turkey wasn't that cooperative letting US soldiers use Turkish military base for their invasion of Iraq.
In the film as a result of this incident a high-ranking turkish soldier commits suicide as he can't bear the shame but before he sends a letter to a Turkish agent notifiying him about what happened. Therefore the agent and two of his pals want to kill the man responsible for the 'hood incident', an evil American named 'Sam' portrayed by Billy Zane. The character of Sam, representing American politics in general, is an evil, religiously obsessed, bastard who is in charge of the US-troops in North Iraq and uses his power to instigate Turkish, Kurds, Arabs. He and his soldiers don't shy away from arbitrarily imprison, torture and shoot people without blinking. Sam draws the hate on himself and his men not only due to humilating Turkish soldiers but also as he crashes a wedding fest with his army killing many guests, a little kid and the groom.
This is the setup of the film as the bride, the father of the dead kid and the three Turkish agents try to revenge the murders their own way and getting back their honors.
If you comment on the film, the technical aspects, leaving out the propaganda you see an action film, with 10 million USD the most expensive Turkish film ever, which is not looking like a rubbish product or your average Michael Dudikoff flick. As there's lots of use of bombs, gunfire, explosions the producers of the film hired a professional effects team from the UK which worked on various Hollywood films (Black Hawk Down, Kingdom of Heaven) before.
The setup of the story and the motivations of the main figures are easy to get and the actors itself play the parts in a convincing manner. But I still wonder how American actors Billy Zane and Gary Busey ended up in this film. As Billy Zane is the main villain he has lots of scenes but Gary Busey (who's a poor shadow now compared to his part in 'Point Break') only appears in a few scenes as a Jewish doctor who takes out organs from prisoners Sam's army provide. The doctor sells the living organs to rich people in Jerusalem, London and other Western countries. The only concern Busey's character shows in regards to the randomly killing of the prisoners is that he needs them alive as bullet wounds destroy the organs.
'Valley of the wolves' is a one-dimensional film with many violent scenes, where the Americans are plain evil (only one American soldier in the film resists the randomly shooting of unarmed people but instantly gets a bullet between his eyes), kill and torture as they like (in the film they reconstruct a part reality meaning the first scandal-pictures of the female soldier, standing next to naked prisoners, lying on top of each other). Speaking of cruelties now I wonder why they didn't pillory the Americans as rapists. For the US-soldiers the director casted many dumb-looking muscle packed guys, easy targets, opposed to the normal-looking innocent people.
At my screening you could sense a shocked audience when brutal acts of violence commited by US soldiers were shown in graphic detail and you heard a relieved giggle from the audience when one of the three 'heroes' made a funny remark or one of the Americans was killed. After the 122 minutes, when the film was finally over and evil 'Sam' sent to hell the audience applauded for 5-10 seconds. I must admit that made me feel a little bit out of place.
(I later learned that these reactions where common in many screenings of the film in various cities). Then a young Turkish guy, probably 15-16 years old asked me: "Are you German ?", I said "yes", and I noticed a surprised look on his face. Then he asked: " Why are you watching this film ?" and I answered "I like to watch movies from various countries and I haven't seen much from Turkey" (I have to say that the film is shown in Germany in Turkish language with German subtitles; even the American actors are dubbed in Turkish). Then the guy smiled at me and said "was a great film, wasn't it ?" and as he was expecting an answer I answered politly "I have to think about this some more" as I didn't think I could have an honest discussion with him about what we just saw on the screen. Also all this violent images were spinning in my head, the shooting of the kid, the killing of civilians, the suicide bombing. I mean this young fella obviously thought he had seen a great action film.
The following days I read more about the controversy which the film is causing in Germany, some politicians even want to ban the film from theatres, the Jewish Organization is upset, whereas some of Turkish people claim their right of telling their side of the story as do American films all the time.
Nonetheless, as the film is also based on a successful TV-series which ran for 3 seasons (so a fan base is there) and the heated discussions about religion and freedom of speech at the moment it seems the film will get more followers especially due to word on the street.
Trivia note: At first the distributor in Germany released the film with a 12 certificate which obviously wasn't correct. The cinema therefore changed it to an 18 which I totally support. But after digging a bit more I found out that the film was rated 16 by the German board of film certification. Considering the message and especially the graphic violence in this film I'm very surprised ! I'm not saying they should pull the film from cinemas but I'm not sure if a 16 year old can handle the film. The danger is that young unenlightened people take the events for granted without asking.