Turkey: epic movie highlights Ottoman conquest

This is bound to cause more controversy!

From The Boston Globe

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.
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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.

You can watch the trailer ….

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About proverbs6to10

Interested in Byzantium and Patrick Leigh Fermor
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14 Responses to Turkey: epic movie highlights Ottoman conquest

  1. magnauraviva says:

    Hi Tom, don’t think I been watching this film any time soon! What’s next, glorification on destroying the Parthenon? Mmmm ….

  2. rebelsprite says:

    I’m curious whether they are going to portray the attack against Constantinople as an act of defense.

  3. MIck McT says:

    I’m certainly going to have a look at the film. If it’s generally well made, it should give an interesting view of events from, for me, a somewhat different angle…always a good thing when dealing with history.

  4. proverbs6to10 says:

    Not quite sure I understand your point, but clearly from the Ottoman perspective it was no act of defence, and looking at the trailer it would not appear like that – it is ‘destiny’!

  5. Marissa says:

    I definitely want to see it! While it might not be 100% historically accurate, few films, whether nationalistic or not, are. They are produced for entertainment, and play to our desire to see the hero v. villain plot line.

    Even then, I think the film’s portrayal of the Ottomans is more historically accurate than you might think. Mehmed ‘the Conqueror’ was a complex man, and he fully understood the imperial legacy attached to Constantinople. When he moved to conquer it (it was undoubtedly an expansionist campaign, not defence) therefore, he did everything he could to take the city through surrender. This would not only have made his job much easier, but it would also have prevented the 3 days of pillage to which his troops were entitled if they captured it by force. When it became clear that the city would fall through siege, he gave orders to prevent his troops from damaging its built heritage, and stopped the pillage early. All this he did because he knew how impressive the Byzantine legacy was, and he wanted to use it for himself.

    Simply from watching the trailer, it does also seem as if the film approximates the complex relationship between Byzantines, the Latin Christian West, and the Ottomans. In the several year before 1453, many Greek Orthodox declined to support an alliance with the Papacy because it, unlike the Ottomans, wanted to change the way they worshipped. When Mehmed took the city, he not only allowed Greek Orthodox residents to retain their faith, he often forcibly relocated more Christians into the city.

    Moving from history proper, too, I think the vision of Mehmed as a religiously motivated conqueror who nevertheless fosters religious freedom is a more positive nationalist message than one you’d get if you focused on other Ottoman Sultans.

  6. proverbs6to10 says:

    Hi Marissa. Thanks for the comments. I liked your blog and I have put a link to it on the link list. Hope it brings you some well deserved visitors. Tom

  7. Marissa says:

    Thanks Tom, I’ll be sure to do the same! I really enjoy your blog and found this post in particular very thought provoking (as you can see, I have a soft-spot for the Ottomans).

    Best,
    Marissa

  8. I travelled in Turkey last Fall, Istanbul and Anatolia, and I was struck by the number of times I heard young Turks in conversation evoke a certain nostalgia for the multicultural, multiconfessional and multilinguistic “space” of the Ottoman Empire as compared with the Turkish space of the republic. (This of course invokes the earlier Byzantine space!) Pamuk does the same in his memoir about Istanbul. On my last day in Istanbul I picked up a brochure announcing the imminent opening of a very large-scale diorama depicting the Conquest of Constantinople, in image and language similar to this preview of the epic film (which I have not seen). A blow-by-blow account of the seige, assault, weaponry deployed, ghastly deaths, heroism on the ramparts, etc etc. So I find it interesting that both sentiments can be alive at once in some of today’s Turks: nostalgia for a pluralistic culture and satisfaction in a triumphalist ethnic narrative.

  9. Pingback: Reviews of Fetih 1453 « Byzantine Blog

  10. Zephyr says:

    Unlike Marissa, I have no love for the present day Turks or their Ottoman predecessors. But having said that, I find the 4th crusade was an even more shameful and unpalatable act which paved the way for the fall of Constantinople to the Turks. It’s why I will never visit Venice.

  11. cynthia curran says:

    Well, Zephyr the Byzantines killed several thousand Italians during the Latin Massacre in 1182.

  12. Dimitris Frantzis says:

    To present the fall of Constantinople as an heroic act, when at least 80.000 Turks (armed with big canons – a new invention back then, an invention that the Byzantines were largely lacking) when 80.000 Turks besieged a shrinked and decadent Constantinople, defended only by 7000 Greek – Genoese, well that’s not very heroic…The true heroes here were the Byzantines who defended to their death the once shining and glorious Constantinople…After invading the city the Turks kept for three whole days killing civilians and raping the women…How glorious and heroic was that?

  13. Christina says:

    Marissa go get educated. The Turks were not heroic but barbaric. They were against freedom and democracy and represented exploitation, oppression and evil…bu bye

  14. Mick McT says:

    ‘They [the Turks] were against freedom and democracy and represented exploitation, oppression and evil.’
    Ignoring for the moment the fact that a number of the Ottoman soldiers at the siege of Constantinople were neither Turks nor Muslims but Christians of one sort or another, perhaps, Christina, you could explain how the Byzantines championed ‘freedom and democracy’? I don’t recall reading anywhere that the Byzantine Emperors were elected by universal suffrage or that they had any tolerance for the notion of democracy…if they even knew what it was. I’m not sure how exchanging one imperialist, theocratic regime for another is any step away from ‘democracy’.
    Anyway, can you apply 21st century political ideals to a 15th century fight between two Empires?

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