A while back I reviewed a Turkish Great War Film called ‘Canakkale 1915‘. I was hoping I’d enjoy the Turkish perspective on the Gallipoli campaign. I expected it would show a nuanced viewpoint and shed some light on how the Turks viewed their part in the conflict. I was expecting to get a bit chin strokey and have the chance to feel superior about loving a film that no-one else had seen. That wasn’t how things ended up panning out.
What I actually got to watch was a jaundiced, partisan and badly written film that seemed to take no care over the facts or indeed the laws of physics. Tiny guns sunk giant battle ships with one shot whilst the giant guns of British dreadnoughts puffed up the sand around the ankles of the Turks. There was more than a wiff of Nationalist sentiment about the thing. I tried to compare it to similar films shot from the Allied perspective. The ones that sprang to mind as having similar shallow, goody versus baddy storylines with 2 dimensional stereotypical enemies tended to be older films such as ’40,000 Horsemen’ or ‘Sergeant York’ both from 1941. Basically, I was disappointed.
With this in mind, Turkish Great War films have not been at the top of my agenda in the months since I watched ‘Cannakale 1915’. Finally today I felt that should change. After all it’s probably unfair of me to tar all Turkish Great War Films with the brush of the only other one I’d actually seen.
My film today is ‘120’ (2008). Intriguing title if nothing else. The basic plot of the film is that we’re in a Turkish garrison town where word has reached them that Russia is threatening to invade. The soldiers move out to the Eastern border. As a battles rages at the border the Turks are running out of ammo. The townsfolk of the garrison town have some ammo left over by the soldiers when they mobilised and they hatch a plan to get it to the guys at the front. But how? Here comes the kicker. Their plan is to use their children rather than do it themselves. Hmm, seems a bit odd on the surface but apparently it’s a true story.
Where do I begin with this one? There’s a lot going on….and not much of it is plot or story line. Let’s start with the current political hot potato regarding the Armenian genocide. Pretty much the whole of the world with the exception of turkey itself seems comfortable with the term genocide for what went on back then. In my mind at least I would expect the Turkish people to have fronted up and maybe seem a little apologetic. Germany was after World War 2. Japan was as well. Even if you don’t mean it that much, you could put it on, just pretend a bit to save face and get on with the rest of the World. Turkey seems loath to do this and the film shows that sentiment.
The Armenians are displayed as either cowering gypsies or gun toting bullying rebels. The language used to describe them is strong and derogatory. At first I tried to work out if what was being portrayed in the film was a current nationalistic sentiment or if the film makers were trying to paint a picture of the zeitgeist at the time. Frankly the jury was out and I just couldn’t decide which side of the fence I was on. I wonder what an Armenian Great War Film looks like? Note to self…..Find Armenian Great War Films.
The camerawork and look of the film is good. The interior shots of the houses make their décor look amazing. A time when rooms didn’t have all their furniture pointed at the TV. The clothing and accessories all seem authentic enough and there are a fair array of moustaches to marvel at. Whereas ‘Cannakale 1915’ seemed to be acted by 14 year old boys in their dad’s suits this felt like they’d spent some time and effort doing a good job.
The pace is ploddy and in truth not much really happens. I don’t have a problem with this as such. There are lots of little elements around how the families are reacting to the war, the bastard Armenians and how the children themselves view the war. Sadly none of these things are done with any strength and we don’t really get to the bottom of these emotions. I think what the film makers have focussed on is the true storyness of the story and have forgotten that this is also a film that people want to watch and engage with.
So the 120 kids get all brave and decide to do their bit by lugging the ammo and guns over the mountain pass. Those pesky Armenians are there hiding behind rocks of course to take pot shots at the kids and their soldier chaperones. All very sad stuff. A soldier dies, the music swells. On we go. And then on the return journey the weather changes and the kids get into real trouble. More sadness, women wailing, that sort of thing. The End.
Well what do I make of that? It’s a bit long, overly sentimental, potentially jingoist and maybe deeply racist. But do you know what? I liked it…a bit. I’m no expert on the conflict in Turkey (or anywhere for that matter) so if I just judge it on its entertainment value, I was sufficiently entertained for two hours which means, therefore, that it did its job. One thing I would say is that the closing scene of graves on a mountain top with a CGI’d Turkish flag waving in a CGI breeze does seem to nod to this having a Nationalist stance. According to the wiki page it was heavily government funded so maybe I shouldn’t be such a fan of it after all.
On face value then, it was okay but there’s something a bit odd boiling away below the surface. Films like these should be accurate portrayals of the events they depict, presented without artistic licence or contemporary political bias. I can’t say I’m 100% sure that this film meets these simple criteria. Maybe I’m wrong. If you feel like giving it a go, please do. And let me know your thoughts. If you have any knowledge of the issues portrayed in the movie I’d be glad to hear them too. Basically, in conclusion, I don’t know, but I think it’s a bit iffy.