VALLEY OF THE WOLVES IRAQ (2006, directed by Serder Akar, 122 minutes, Turkey)
DESPAIR (1978, directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 119 minutes, Germany)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
The Turkish action film Valley of the Wolves Iraq has a certain whiff of the 1980s, which is only fitting considering the decade was a prime era for stereotypical Arab movie villains (remember of robed gang in Back To The Future?). Shot like a straight-to-video gun & grunt fest, this Turkish crowd-pleaser (reportedly Turkey’s largest-budgeted film ever) makes the 80’s-style Hollywood action genre its own, turning its American soldiers into blood-crazed monsters for its Turkish heroes to prove their nobility. Assorted U.S. atrocities get a fictionalized turn here (Abu Ghraib, the 2004 Mukaradeeb wedding massacre etc) and it is sickly fascinating to see our military misdeeds reworked into straight-faced propaganda. U.S. stars Gary Busey and Billy Zane are on hand to supply “credibility”, playing a Jewish doctor harvesting organs for profit and a fanatical Christian Colonel respectively. A popular hit in its homeland, Valley of the Wolves Iraq is the type the type of foreign entertainment that is not meant for the art houses but instead to stir up nationalism in the locals. It’s audacious enough to stir U.S. audiences too.
I’m not sure what thread ties this to Despair, German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder‘s first big (or at least “modestly”)-budgeted film from 1978 (currently unavailable on DVD), but these days you gotta take your Fassbinder wherever you can get it. Playwright Tom Stoppard adapted the story by Nabokov, following Dirk Bogarde’s deeply cynical chocolate maker as his psyche fractures during the Nazis rise. We know that Bogarde’s gone off the deep end when when alter-ego arrives to observe his love-making with his two-timing wife in the opening minutes. He soon after is recruiting a look-alike tramp to take part in some murderous scheme and by the time this little puzzler is finished Fassbinder has shown us not only what happens but most of the alternate realities that could have happened as well. This might all come off as theoretical wanking if it wasn’t for Bogarde’s hang-dog expression at the close; like one of the gooey-centered candies he manufactures, we feel this tightly-wound character’s soft and sad center.
Tonight! ANDREW’S VIDEO VAULT @ The Rotunda 4014 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 8PM FREE!