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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Ottoman Lieutenant movie review: erasing the past with sleight of cinematic hand

The Ottoman Lieutenant red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Odious propagandistic attempt to enshrine Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide of World War I into cinematic history via a tepid and unconvincing romance.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

In a land on the brink of war,” goes the marketing tagline of the odious The Ottoman Lieutenant, “the most dangerous place to be is in love.” That would not be true in, shall we say, the best of wars, if there is such a thing. But here, young American nurse Lillie (Hera Hilmar: Anna Karenina), volunteering at a hospital in a remote region of the Ottoman Empire, finds herself in the middle of World War I and the genocide of Armenians by the Turks. Except the latter is not happening here at all! This propagandistic production, financed primarily from Turkey — the government of which has a longstanding policy of denying that any genocide upon Armenians was ever committed — would like us to believe that 1.5 million Armenians were not exterminated with deliberate precision by the Ottoman Empire, but that it was just war and, you know, people die. *shrug*

“So we agree that she’s cute enough to distract everyone from genocide? Good!”

“So we agree that she’s cute enough to distract everyone from genocide? Good!”tweet

If only the most offensive aspect of this movie were the tepid, unconvincing romancetweet between Lillie and Ottoman Imperial Army lieutenant Ismail (Michiel Huisman: The Invitation, The Age of Adaline)! Or the male entitlement displayed by the American doctor (Josh Hartnett: 30 Days of Night, Resurrecting the Champ) who runs the hospital she’s volunteering at, who gets angry that she didn’t fall in love with him instead, as would have been right and proper. Instead, we have the disgusting spectacle of noble, oh-so noble Ismail expressing horror at the slaughter of an Armenian village — it wasn’t Ottoman soldiers who did this, one traumatized village woman assures him, nosiree — and rescuing innocent Armenians being shot by nasty slovenly lowly rogue soldiers, bad apples all. Oh, the price this fine upstanding example of Ottoman soldiery will pay for standing up for the good Armenian people! What garbage.

“I thought I was going to change the world,” Lillie narrates at us as the film opens, “but of course the world changed me.” This is a movie that is trying to change the past by erasing it,tweet by enshrining “alternative facts” into cinematic history, and by distracting you from its denial with a nice white lady falling in love with a handsome and honorable soldier. This is a denial of genocide close to a par of that which denies WWII’s Holocaust of the Jews, and everyone involved in this production — including also Ben Kingsley (The Jungle Book, The Walk) in the cast, director Joseph Ruben (The Forgotten, Return to Paradise), and screenwriter Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) — should be ashamed of themselves for abetting it.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

red light 0 stars

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The Ottoman Lieutenant (2017) | directed by Joseph Ruben
US/Can release: Mar 10 2017
UK/Ire release: direct to VOD

MPAA: rated R for some war violence
BBFC: rated 12

viewed on my iPad

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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