‘Conquest 1453’: An addendum
First I must declare it openly: I did not watch the movie. I was going to, though; until I received a note by a Greek news site with the note: “Read this.” It was the article of my fellow columnist Burak Bekdil in this paper last Friday, translated into Greek accompanied by dozens of “likes.”
Since D.W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” historical and religious epics have been synonymous with huge expenses, huge profits – or losses – and dubious historical accuracy. At the worst of times, they were seen as historical distortion and propaganda tools, at the best, they served as gigantic platforms for master performances by individual actors. After all, this film genre is supposed to operate like a magnifying glass on the human drama on a grand scale. Elizabeth Taylor, Charlton Heston and Kirk Douglas are just a few names that come immediately to mind.
So it was only natural that the young Mehmed the Conqueror would be the center of this new Turkish cinema epic – the biggest and the most expensive production ever for a Turkish film – about the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans. Another epic film with the same theme but from a Greek or Western perspective might have narrated the story while basing the drama on the last Byzantine emperor, Constantinos Palaeologos, who was killed in the battle.
For example, most films about Alexander the Great were done from a Western perspective, showing him as a great military genius and a great visionary while an Iranian director dealing with the same dramatic personality could have added to his military skills an imperialist shade. It all depends on where you approach the story from and to whom you are addressing your story. After all, they tell us, films are not supposed to be historical documentaries, although their powerful influence on the public can throw history out of the window.
So here is a small addendum to Burak Bekdil’s column which may throw more light on the central personality of the film “Fetih,” Sultan Mehmed the Second. Like Alexander, he was a military genius but a lot more.
In 1452 and while the sultan was preparing for the assault no the city, camping somewhere on the Dardanelles, Cyriaco from Ancona, a prominent Calabrian traveler, merchant, poet, diplomat, archaeologist and probably spy, was with him.
We know this from the Chronicles of Giacomo Langusto, who writes: “The Sultan is a young man of 26, well-built, rather big, looking serious, prudent in his actions, steady on his decisions, daring on everything, ambitious like Alexander the Great. He is receiving history lessons from his friend Cyriaco from Ancona and by another Italian.
They read to him [Diogenes] Laertios, Herodotos, Libius, the Chronicles of the Popes, the Chronicles of Emperors, the Chronicles of the French Emperors and the Chronicles of the Longobardi. He speaks three languages: Turkish, Greek and Slavic. He listens with pleasure to informative stories from Italy, and the land where Anchises and Aeneas lived and about the sees of old emperors. He learns who the kings of Europe are and which are the dominions of rulers. With such a man, we the Christians have to deal with.”
As I stated in the beginning, I have not seen the film, yet. But one thing I should say in advance: The richer and more multifaceted a personality is portrayed in a film, the better the film is. There is nothing worse than one-dimensional characters, whose depth is only skin-deep.