Director: Burak Arliel
Writers: Atilla Unsal, Nil Unsal, Gulec, Cengiz Dagici (novel)
Cast: Murat Yildirm, Bulent Alkis, Ali Barkin, Selma Ergec, Suavi Eren, Baki Davrak Burc Kumbetlioglu, Joshy Peters
114min War Drama Turkish with Subtitles
A tale of suffering by Crimean Turks during WWII is expertly-crafted but derailed by an 0ver-elevated and unconvincing narrative.
Burak Ariel’s first film The Turkish Passport, told how Turkish Jews were saved from the clutches of the Nazis by diplomats during WWII. In CRIMEAN, Turkish Crimean patriots, captured by the Nazis, are given the chance to liberate their homeland from occupying Russian forces, on condition that they fight alongside the Germans.
Loosely based on Crimean writer Cengiz Dagici’s novel, ‘Kurkunc Yillar’, this fractured narrative stars popular Turkish actor Murat Yildirim as heroic Lieutenant Sadik Turan whose tale unfolds on various battlefields as he deftly shifts sides in a bid to defend Crimea, his compatriots, and the woman he loves.
We first meet our hero in the early 1920s when Russian soldiers burst into his Crimean primary school marking the start of the Soviet regime in the region. Although Sadik protests “You will never take our freedom” the soldiers ignore the teenager in the first of many lucky escapes. Jumping forward twenty years, Sadik is dapperly clad in Nazi uniform aboard a train travelling through Poland. Seated opposite him is a Polish woman, Maria Kosecki (Selma Ergec), who is pretending to be German. In fluent Turkish (she lived in Istanbul for several years) she questions Sadik about his uniform and the two fall into easy conversation amid flashing eyes and light-hearded flirting, marking the start of an enduring love affair that strangely fails to move anyone but themselves.
As the narrative jumps backwards and forwards, we see Sadik in various acts of derring-do. Fighting with the Soviets against the Nazis, he is then captured and imprisoned in a camp where Herr Lieutenant Bauer (Baki Davrak with strangely-dyed hair) holds sway, looking like a nasty German version of Toby Jones. Amid the daily round of torture and atrocities, Sadik hatches an escape plan with his fellow-inmate Mustafa (Bulent Alkis) where, switching sides, he takes on a Nazi guise. The only problem with Sadik, as portrayed in Arliel’s heroic treatment, is his authenticity as a living, breathing man: Throughout all this strife and mental turmoil, he constantly emerges unflustered and unruffled, a suave and chivalrous Crimean hero and yet somehow an unconvincing person. Maria too, is rather a one-dimensional character; appearing initially as if she wouldn’t say boo to a goose and latterly as a modern day Boudicea. Both these characters are sadly underwritten, making their plight and relationship completely unaffecting, despite quite decent performances. Sadik will next meet Maria, a year later in Poland where she is fighting for the resistance movement. Together, they hatch a plan to overthrow the local German occupying force and after taking their romance a stage further, by spending a night together, it all ends in tears amidst the sacrifice of a melodramatic meltdown.
Clearly, Arliel was looking to make a rousing and heroic epic to satisfy his Turkish Crimean fans but despite Feza Caldiran’s magnificent cinematography, some remarkable set-pieces on the battlefield and the casting of two of Turkey’s biggest screen stars, the narrative fails to do battle with the deeply complex moral, ethnic and psychological aspects of this wartime saga, making the only tragedy here one of missed opportunity. Turkish audiences will delight however at seeing Murat Kildirim in fine form. MT