Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Day of the Siege: Mixed Review


Not too long ago, I put up a posting (Cinematic Counter-Jihad) about a movie that came out in 2012 which I hailed as a welcome and refreshingly incorrect dramatization of a great anti-Islamic event -- namely, the Christian defense of Vienna in 1683 against a massive Mohammedan army that amassed to lay siege to her.

Well, I finally got around to watching it.  And it is pretty good, and has many rousing, inspirational scenes that would, could and should hearten us today, particularly spoken through the mouth of the character Marco d'Aviano, the Italian monk who historically did actually deliver motivational sermons calling upon his fellow Christians to defend their faith and their societies from the Mohammedan scourge.

There were, nonetheless, some asymptotic twitches here and there.  Mostly, they involved a running theme or thread throughout the movie, concerning "Abu'l", a Muslim friend of d'Aviano who happened to be one of the few (if not the only) Muslims living in Vienna at the time (oh, for those halcyon days when Europe hadn't suicidally invited Muslims in by the millions! -- but I digress...).  I don't so much mind the notion that d'Aviano would have such a Muslim friend (played, amusingly enough, by a Greek actor, Yarga Voyagis, with all due Mediterranean unctuousness); nor even scenes showing amicable exchanges between the two.  It kind of crosses the line, though, to go as far as the director saw fit to do. For example, showing a Christian lynch mob confronting the hapless old Muslim, with d'Aviano strenuously interceding on behalf of his friend, appealing to their Christian mercy and adding a punchline that, but for the medieval dressing, remarkably resembles the infamously naive invocation of Rodney King (during the 1992 black riots in L.A.) for all of us to "just get along" -- with a clear implication that "we" (the European Christians at the time) can and should learn to live with Muslims like Abu'l.

Perhaps worse is the moment when the lynch mob's righteous fury isn't allayed by d'Aviano's protestations and is about to seize the old Muslim -- then a young white woman rushes forward and falls on her knees to take the swords they are brandishing, pleading for his life.  Who is she?  Why, she's the pretty young white wife of Abu'l, looking to be in her late teens (played by the actress Angelica Cacciapaglia, one of those actresses who could well have been in her late 20s but looks like a teenager).  I don't so much mind her interceding for her Muslim husband -- for many white brides of Muslims have suffered from Stockholm Syndrome -- but the many scenes elsewhere in the movie of their tender love for each other, with Abu'l treating her with dignity and respect seem to be a stretch, to put it mildly.  It seems highly implausible that an old Muslim like him (and their age disparity is a good touch) would have acquired a pretty young white bride (notwithstanding that she's a deaf mute) through standard, decent means, and not rather through abduction (or Ottoman slave auction) at some point in the past (probably when she was just a child).  And, as a sex slave slash wife of a Muslim, it seems highly unlikely that he would be treating her with tender civility.  But, had the director chosen a more honest depiction -- say, a general, callous disregard for her needs punctuated by the odd slap across the face or kick against her haunches while she mops the floor on her hands and knees, etc. -- it would have been more difficult for him to construct an already implausible deep friendship between him and the Christian monk.

Yet another PC MC twinge occurs in the occasional flashbacks to some momentous instance in the distant past of the monk's boyhood when he happened to save the life of a young Muslim lad, who turns out to grow up to be Kara Mustafa, the Grand Vizier and military commander of the very same siege that threatens Vienna.  These flashbacks are woven into the movie, prompting Kara Mustafa to seem troubled in his conscience about this good Christian who had once saved his life.  The Italian actor who plays Mustafa, Enrico Lo Verso, acts and is directed to be a rather suave and humane leader, with a Westernized aura of charisma & civility in his manner -- particularly annoying whenever he's interacting with one of his wives, Leila (played by actress Isabella Orsini).  The historian Miltiades Varyounis, in an article at Gates of Vienna (which incidentally provides a good historical overview of that great event), however, notes that an Italian diplomat described the Grand Vizier rather as “utterly venal, cruel and unjust” and adds that “European diplomats in Istanbul were bewildered by his arrogance”.  Given this, and the fact that he was an Ottoman Muslim, his genteel and stolidly noble manner throughout the film rings untrue.

It seems that Renzo Martinelli, the director, for all his criticisms of Islam, is a laggard on the learning curve.  In a recent interview he notices that Islam "has remained impermeable to Western values" but then has the asymptotic elbow spasm of detecting some hopeful signs with the "Arab Spring" -- when the exact opposite should be the appropriate response -- and ends with "hope in the women" (i.e., Muslim women):  "If the Muslim woman became aware of her condition, things would change".  To which we would riposte:  "Uh, well, sure; and if mountains became cheese, we could end world hunger, too..."

Thus, Martinelli felt obliged to leaven & lard two of the key Muslim characters with unmerited humanity -- but for what purpose and to what end?  To counter-balance the massive historical fact his film was pointing at, of the Ottoman terror that, for Islamic reasons, terrorized and traumatized the West for over a thousand years for Islamic reasons?  As a gesture of eggshell-walking conciliation to PC MC?  As a sincere tic of his own innate PC MC reflexes?  At any rate, the movie would have been far better and more authentic had it depicted its Mohammedan characters in the worst light; and if it had to include a Muslim friend for the good monk, he should have been made more flawed and not so damned noble (e.g., show him slap his young wife around now and then, and spousal-rape her once, for good measure).  A nice touch -- as long as one is embellishing history, why not lean incorrectly rather than correctly? --  would have been to indicate some sense in Abu'l of being conflicted about his own Islam leading him to contemplate apostasy, with his good Christian friend Marco encouraging him and praying for him.

Near the end of the movie, after it is clear the Ottoman army has lost and the European Christian coalition has routed them, D'Aviano happens to be walking on the battlefied (this is accurate, for apparently D'Aviano accompanied Christian armies, as he did a few years later at the Ottoman siege of Belgrade in 1688 -- another battle the Christians won) and sees his old Muslim friend prostrate and dying on the lap of his young wife, sheltered in her arms.  The monk comes close and his friend dies before his eyes, and the monk cries out in a scream of anguish -- the director clearly communicating how this war was a tragedy for the friendship of Christian and Muslim.  As it stands, then, the movie telegraphs an acceptance of this Muslim character's Islam as a fait accompli of life, with the pointed implication that we must accept Muslims in our Western lives, notwithstanding the obviously massive obstacles which their Islam presents -- an all-too typical paradox which the asymptotic counter-jihadist typically leaves unaddressed.

If the viewer is intelligent enough, and has sufficiently healthy instincts, to absorb the paradox the film concocts for him, and to resolve it in the right way ("No, Mr. Martinelli, I respectfully disagree that we need to accept Muslims in our Western life -- precisely because of everything else your fine film has otherwise depicted...!"), he will profit indeed from watching it.

Further Reading:

The frappé of human kindness (for background on Marco D'Aviano).

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