Tuesday, February 14, 2006

ISTANBUL — A new film riding on a wave of anti-Americanism is attracting record audiences in Turkey and has drawn approving comments from the wife of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Gum-chewing U.S. soldiers shoot Iraqis in cold blood at a wedding in one scene from the movie. In another scene, set at that the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, a Jewish-American doctor harvests Iraqi prisoners’ kidneys for sale to Israel and the West.

“What this film shows is that the Americans won’t always have it their way,” said Serdar Yagci, a student outside a theater in central Istanbul.

Minutes earlier, he had been one of many in the audience who stood up and cheered when the film’s dour hero, Turkish agent Polat Alemdar, tracked down and killed a villainous U.S. Army officer who said he was guided by God.

“Valley of the Wolves: Iraq” fictionalizes the arrests of members of a Turkish military mission in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2003. Suspected of plotting to assassinate a Kurdish politician, the 11 men had sacks placed over their heads by U.S. soldiers before being taken to Baghdad for questioning.

In real life, Turks could do nothing but fume at what they perceived as a grave insult to their country’s most respected institution: the army. In the film, Alemdar takes single-handed revenge on the perpetrators of the slight before bringing peace to Iraq.

“It sounds laughable — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a sack for sack,” wrote Alin Tasciyan, one of several critics to pan the film for its “clunky, didactic dialogue” and bad acting.

“Valley of the Wolves” is not the work of independents or amateurs. With a budget of $10 million, it’s the biggest-spending Turkish film in history. The international cast includes Hollywood actor Billy Zane of “Titanic.”

Within three days of its release, the movie had been seen by 1.2 million people, a 40 percent increase on the previous viewing record.

At a gala performance earlier this month, the actors rubbed shoulders with Turkey’s elite.

“I feel so proud of them all,” said Emine Erdogan, wife of the prime minister, comfortably ensconced in a seat next to the actor playing Alemdar.

Although Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul insisted that the film was no worse than some of the productions of Hollywood studios, Turkish parliament leader Bulent Arinc praised its “realism.”

U.S. officials in Turkey laugh off the significance of the film, but a senior Washington official interviewed by the Turkish daily Milliyet last week expressed concern about its success in a secular Muslim country with a U.S. alliance since the early 1950s.

“Can you imagine the first lady or the head of the House of Representatives going to the gala performance of a film that could incite anti-Turkish feeling among Americans?” the official asked.

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