'Valley of the Wolves' hopes to spark more nationalism

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 11/26/2009 12:00:00 AM | EMRAH GÜLER

In a line of TV series and movie adaptations, ‘Kurtlar Vadisi’ (Valley of the Wolves) franchise continues with a new movie. ‘Kurtlar Vadisi – Gladio’ hopes to follow the footsteps of its predecessors, aiming straight at the heart of frustrated crowds with a newfound nationalistic angst who can’t get more of deep state conspiracies

The phenomenon that is “Valley of the Wolves” once again hopes to cash in on Turkey’s recent agenda of conspiracies of the “deep state” fuelled by the Ergenekon investigation, and draw frustrated crowds with a newfound nationalistic angst to movie theaters.

“Kurtlar Vadisi – Gladio” is yet another movie adaptation from the immensely popular Turkish TV series “Kurtlar Vadisi” (Valley of the Wolves), that ran for three seasons from 2003 with almost 100 episodes.

The cult TV series was created by director Osman Sınav, establishing a leading man in the image of a mafia-macho Turkish guy, admired by the unemployed and frustrated young men all over Turkey. Polat Alemdar (portrayed by Necati Şaşmaz) was the Turkish equivalent of “24’s” Jack Bauer, entangled in the deep state, disguised as a mafia boss. Short and ordinary looking, Polat has a self-defined sense of justice that included hanging traitors in the city center of Istanbul.

“Kurtlar Vadisi” became an instant hit with its references to Turkish politics, its unabashed abuse of social sensitivities on patriotism, and with unprecedented scenes of violence that included assassination and torture on television. Not unlike John Woo’s “Face/Off,” an undercover Turkish agent goes through a set of plastic surgeries to infiltrate the mafia, along with a gunman who walks surefooted in this muddy underworld. The two go through ordeals of every kind for Polat to become the next baron so that he can break them apart.

The series had reached such a cult status that many young men officially changed their names to Polat Alemdar. The hype eventually got so big that the final episodes featured Andy Garcia as the big American mafia boss and Sharon Stone as his wife, eventually lending a kiss to our hero.

[HH] Polat travels to Iraq

Then came the movie “Kurtlar Vadisi – Irak” (Valley of the Wolves – Iraq) in 2006, the most expensive Turkish movie to date. The new installment in the franchise told the story of hero Polat Alemdar's fight against the “evil” U.S. troops in Iraq. The movie opened in 14 countries, drawing an audience of over 2 million in less than two weeks in Turkey. When the movie version, with a storyline different from the series, came to screens with the anticipated hype, teenage boys all over Turkey found their way to movie theaters. For some of them, it was their first time in a cinema.

“Kurtlar Vadisi – Irak” based its story on real-life events that took place in Sulaimaniya during the occupation of Iraq, where 11 Turkish soldiers were detained by U.S. troops. Pictures of them with sacks over their heads were not taken lightly by the Turkish public at the time. The film showed Polat Alemdar and his men going to northern Iraq to fight with U.S. troops and avenge the honor of Turkish soldiers.

The cast included Hollywood actors Billy Zane and Gary Busey as the evil Americans. In terms of technical standards, the movie played above average, with impressive visual effects. But when it came to dramatic structure, the film was in shambles. Stereotypical does not explain the heroic Turks against the evil Americans. The one-dimensional, cardboard characters made ‘Rambo’ stand as a respectable war movie. In the movie, American soldiers raided a wedding, they shot innocent people, a Jewish doctor sold organs to rich people in the West, and they tortured the war prisoners. You can guess where all these led up to with our hero Polat in charge.

[HH] The enemy within

“Kurtlar Vadisi – Gladio” comes to theaters in the heat of the Ergenekon investigation, an alleged ultra-nationalistic organization with ties in the military, media and justice, and accused of terrorism, a media-favorite for the last six months. The film puts a peripheral character in the series at its center, İskender Büyük (as ridiculous as it can get, his name translates as Alexander Great), a deep throat claiming that he knows the answers to such deep state secrets on the terrorist organization the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, coups in the last half-a-century, and alleged assassinations against a previous president, all stories bearing close resemblances to real events.

This time, however, U.S. is portrayed not as evil to be defeated but a reckoning force that puts an immediate halt to impending coups. The movie features a plethora of plot holes, inconsistencies within the script, with real time events, and with its predecessors. Those who are hoping for impressive action scenes like in “Kurtlar Vadisi – Irak” go home empty-handed as well.

The film, as everything else in the “Kurtlar Vadisi” franchise, feeds on the emerging neo-nationalist sentiments, reactions to the pro-Islamist government, and Turkey’s position with the European Union and the new world order. Nationalism in Turkey, more often than not, gains its power through creation and recreation of enemies. Turkish cinema history has had its fair share of enemies, from Byzantines and Vikings to Amazons and even aliens. It was time for a contemporary enemy. Now the Americans seem outdated as well, the enemy within seems to be the best option.



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