LOVE CHILD – movie review

Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Eva Mulvad
Writer: Eva Mulvad
Cast: Sahand, Mani, Leila
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 9/14/20
Opens: September 14, 2020

love child

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his people asked him how it went. The good news is “I got him down to ten,” the lawgiver said. “The bad news is that adultery is still one of them.” Commandments notwithstanding, adultery is probably more common than killing, stealing, even dissing your mother and father. I’ll bet more people say OMG than drink Coca-Cola, so forget enforcing decrees against taking The Name in vain. While we in the West love soap operas with every kind of description of sex outside marriage, parts of the world are just no fun. In Iran, if you’re guilty of violating the Sixth Commandment, you are in deep doody.

The government of Iran says not only Death to America but when they get a chance they think Stone the Adulterers. In this doc, a dramatized one which makes it the kind of nonfiction story that evokes the same audience interest as a narrative drama, Sahand and Leila have a love child conceived four years earlier in Tehran. Mani, the title character, does not understand why her mother and dad are eager to leave everything behind in Iran, but in a way it’s because of him. He is the physical evidence that he was created by his mom, but not by the guy back home who somehow, after three years of marriage to Leila, left her, well, a virgin. The Iranian court would not grant Leila a divorce which even our Catholic church would make short shrift of with an annulment. Instead the judge said “Pray and watch TV.” Maybe they don’t have good stuff on TV like our Drew Barrymore show, and yet somehow, not explained, she does get the divorce.

They’re not looking for a place to exploit workers and make a fortune like people in some countries. They want only to live. They are an educated couple, speaking Farsi, Turkish, English, even Azeri which should make them welcome in many countries, but first they fly to Istanbul and begin a paper chase. They seek refugee status from the UN High Commission for Refugees, which sends their fate into the hands of a byzantine bureaucracy; not ironic considering that they’re filing from Byzantium. They check the UNHCR website eager to hear whether their plea for refugee status is granted, which would allow them to apply for passage to Canada or Australia among other places, but Mani decides for them. He wants America. He never heard of Trump. But Turkey is inundated with Syrian refugees—give the Turks credit for opening their borders to (shock) Muslims (!) and appearing ready to allow them to stay for years if they wish.

As stated above, this is a doc that’s in the welcome format of a narrative drama, one that even takes on the momentum of a thriller. The three stars are not professional actors, but you’d never know. Their lovey-dovey chats and arguments are likely to have been scripted by Danish writer-director Eva Mulvad, whose doc “A Modern Man” is about a Norwegian-English elite violinist, but they sure seem real. Makes you wonder why people go to acting school when all you need is a good director like Ms. Mulvad.

A compelling drama with subtitles in Farsi, Turkish, English and Azeri.

82 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – A-




    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Joseph Ruben
    Written by: Jeff Stockwell
    Cast: Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley
    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 2/24/17
    Opens: March 10, 2017
    The Ottoman Lieutenant Poster #1
    If you learned in high school that World War One pitted the Ottoman Empire, Austria and Germany against Britain, France and Russia, you would not be entirely wrong.  However, like other things taught in high school, the war was more complex.  In Russia, Lenin would hold to the slogan, “Turn colonialist wars into civil war,” pulling Russia out of the war and into overturning the Czars.   In Britain, Irish were seething to form their own country and to break away from the UK.  And in the vast Ottoman Empire, which was later carved into a series of independent states under the rule of Britain and France, both Arabs and Armenians were plotting to break from a geographical entity that was just too large to be other than “the sick man of Europe.”

    Though the Ottomans were opposed in 1914-1918 by Britain, France, Russia and America, to say nothing of Arabs and Armenians living in their borders, there was at least one good guy in the vast Middle-Eastern region and, of course, several good Americans.  We learn this from Joseph Ruben’s “The Ottoman Lieutenant.”  Ruben, whose 1991 feature “Sleeping with the Enemy” focused on a woman who faked her own death to avoid her husband, is more optimistic this time.  His primary focus is on Lille (Hera Hilmar), who becomes bored with her more than comfortable life in the U.S., proving that it’s not only a one-way trek of Muslims who want to live in the U.S. to be safe from thugs like Assad.  She courts danger by sailing to Istanbul and ultimately to a remote area of the Turkish lands, leaving her stiff-necked Christian parents to wonder what they did wrong.

    It’s not the parents.  In the Philadelphia hospital where she did her nursing, she watches in horror as doctors refuse to treat a black man who is bleeding to death because he is “in the wrong place,” and decides that even the lands across the seas would be more just. Though she finds herself in an American hospital in the Turkish sticks when full-scale war breaks out, she has no intention of moving back. She enjoys hanging out with Jude (Josh Hartnett), a handsome American doctor who is a volunteer, Woodruff (Ben Kingsley), the hospital’s founder, and most of all Ismail (Michiel Huisman), the title character, who is a dashing Turkish Muslim who speaks fluent English and is in love with her.  In Jeff Stockwell’s script, a romantic triangle results for her hand, Ismail against Jude, while Ottomans are defending themselves against the Russian invaders, Armenians are subverting the Turks in the Empire, and—though not covered in this picture– Arabs are rebelling against the Ottomans as well.

    Nobody is going to suggest that “The Ottoman Lieutenant” can stand up in any way against David Lean’s epic 216-minute film “Lawrence of Arabia,” the 1962 classics about a British officer and archeologist who unites the Arabs in their rebellion against the Turks.  But director Ruben is at least as eager to highlight the romantic triangle as he is about the shootings and explosions of Ottomans vs. Russians.  And what an adorable woman the Iceland-born Hera Hilmar is in the role of Lillie, a 23-year-old who goes where women are not supposed to go and where the hospital’s founder, Woodruff, tries at first to convince her to go home and leave him with the supplies she shipped with her on the long voyage to Istanbul.
    Just a look from her and men would melt.  And you can’t blame them.  When she gazes into the eyes of handsome Ismail (in real life a Nederlander now living in New Orleans), the swashbuckling exotic who seems perfectly willing to break with the Koran and lie with a Christian woman, you can see the sparks fly.

    In this “poor man’s Laurence of Arabia,” Daniel Aranyó behind the lens captures the vastness and beauty of the Turkish landscape, especially highlighting Cappadocia, today the leading tourist attraction outside of Istanbul.  Horses gallop, men shoot one another, forbidden love is made.  The whole business, though, is kitschy, which is not a bad thing, especially if you are the type of person who goes for Harlequin romances, saccharine emotions, swashbuckling action, tearful separations, and pulsing music.  This is fare for the big screen, a movie that may encourage you to look for Hera Hilmar in future movies wherever Amy Adams types are required.

    Unrated.  112 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

THE PROMISE – movie review


Open Road Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: B
Director:  Terry George
Written by: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Cast: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Daniel Giménez-Cacho, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 4/13/17
Opens: April 21, 2017
The Promise Movie Poster
If you go to Berlin, you will note some sights that would seem unbelievable.  Near the city center, an entire large square block is taken up with a Holocaust memorial, 2711 slabs of concrete arranged in a grid pattern as a memorial to the Jews who were killed on Nazi orders during World War II.  Germany has gone overboard with contrition, delving into the country’s budget to make financial reparations for the murder of six million Jews.  Students from elementary school through secondary institutions are required to make trips to the Holocaust museum in Berlin, and I noted during my visit that the young people visiting the site seem as apologetic as though they were in the war themselves.

By stark contrast, the government of Turkey to this day refuses to admit its own guilt in the genocide of Armenians living within the borders of the Ottoman Empire.  As though it were not sufficient for the Turks to send armies to battle in World War I beginning in 1914, they used the opportunity to murder their own people, just as Syria is doing now in the sixth year of Syria’s civil war.  But the Armenians were not rebelling.  They lived side by side with ethnic Turks, marrying across religious and ethnic lines.  However, as a general rule, when things get bad, when an alarming crisis is on hand such as Turkey’s entry into the war, minorities sometimes get swept up by a suppressed rage now let open.  The excuse Turkey gave for its campaign against Armenians is that a contingent had joined with the Russian enemy; they could no longer trust their loyalty to the Ottomans.

As a result, the genocide was implemented in two phases: the wholesale killing of the able-bodied Armenian male population through massacre and subjection of draftees to forced labor; the deportation of women, children and the elderly and sick on death marches leading to the Syrian desert.

Director Terry George, whose powerful “Hotel Rwanda” covers the massacre of Tutsis by Hutus, is well equipped to hone in on the Armenian genocide. We do not learn why the Turks turned on this minority group, perhaps because “The Promise” is a Hollywood movie as concerned with a triangular romance as it is with the brutality of the Turks, therefore spending a considerable part of its overlong 132 minutes on the romantic attachments of Ana (Charltote Le Bon), an Armenian raised in Paris, with two gents.  They are Christopher Myers (Christian Bale), an American journalist with Associated Press, and Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian medical student.

Oscar Isaac’s role is key as Mikael, an apothecary who leaves his small Ottoman village for Constantinople to study medicine, after promising to wed Maral (Angela Srafyan).  Like some med students in America who depend on their wives or girlfriends for tuition, he uses Maral’s dowry of four hundred gold coins for tuition.  Maral would be naïve to think that nobody in the Turkish capital would turn her boyfriend’s head: Ana, a dance instructor, has her own eye on the journalist, a man of noble character reporting on the genocide and noting that without reporters like him, the Armenian people would completely disappear.

After Turkish divisions break windows of Armenian-owned shops in Constantinople (think of Germany’s Kristallnacht a quarter-century later), Mikael and Ana wind up in bed together.  Yet back home in the village, Mikael’s mother (Shohreh Aghdashloo) demands that her son make good on his promise to marry the small-town gal.

When photographer Gabriel Yared uses wide-screen lensing to show the pained expressions on Chris’s face when he sees his sweetheart together with Mikael, he gives ample time to the actual fighting; to the half naked Armenian men who are on a detail of heavy work leading some to die, and to the happy moment that the Armenians resist strongly, based on a true event in the mountainous Mosa Dagh where the Turks were held back for 53 days.

Oscar Isaac carries the film on his shoulders, an admirable job as a charismatic fighter and lover and also brilliant medical student who near the beginning of the story deftly extracts an organ from a corpse.  Yet another bold move features the American ambassador to Constantinople telling the pasha that the journalist, in jail for releasing genocide material to AP, must not be executed but instead must be freed.

During the same year that “The Promise” is released, “The Ottoman Lieutenant” has followed a similar trajectory: the love story between an idealistic American nurse and a Turkish officer in World War I.  Presumably a new interest in The Great War is on the march, though the first world war will probably always take a back seat in Hollywood to the second.  “The Promise,” for its saccharine romance and pounding music on the soundtrack is a respectable treatment of an action by the Turks that killed between one million and one and on-half million Armenians.  Again: the temptation in some countries to use a critical time such as war or depression to eliminate a minority may unfortunately be with off for a long time.

Rated PG-13.  134 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?

KEDI – movie review

  • KEDI

    Oscilloscope Laboratories
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B+
    Director:  Ceyda Torun
    Cast: Bülent Ütün, Mine Sogut, Elif Nursad Atalay
    Screened at: Critics’ Link, NYC, 5/4/17
    Opens: February 10 , 2017 in theaters.  May 10, 2017 on YouTube Red
    Kedi Movie Poster
    Some people are dog people and some are cat people.  Much depends on both the residencies of the human beings and their psychological makeup.  Those who like to be fawned over, to be treated like a god, prefer dogs.  Those who admire and respect the aloofness, yet the occasional willingness of animals to be  loved  by people prefer cats.  America, France, England and Germany are big on dogs.  Turks in Istanbul have the equivalent respect and love for cats, and how could they not, considering that the animals seem to be everywhere.  The felines are of various colors; ginger, black and white being their favorites.  The breed like rabbits and treat their spawn as any animal would.  In this gracious and lovely documentary, we find that the principal subjects do not speak; they are thankfully not the talking heads that bore us in other documentaries.  But they will deign to allow people to feed them, hold them, pet them, brush them.

    They are not simply tolerated but appreciated, even though they appear to outnumber the people of Istanbul.  They are used as ratters, as terriers used to be employed, and we are told by some of the many human beings who have speaking roles in “Kedi” (the Turkish word for “cat”) that they were kept on ships for that purpose.  But the Turkish-born director Ceyda Torun, who now lives in the U.S., shows us only a single rat, and while Alp Korfali and Charlie Wupperman do not train their lenses on what is to happen to the poor rodent, they do afford us with a variety of shots including fantastic closeups that appear to penetrate the feline soul.  They might even have put cameras on the heads of some of the cats, allowing them to become assistant cinematographers.

    What do these cats do for the Turks aside from conning them for food?  One fellow, who cites his nervous breakdown in 2002, states that the therapy he received from the cats cured him of his depression.  Another man, learning from experience perhaps, rather than books, notes that you should watch out when petting a cat lest those creatures near it react in a feral way because of jealousy.

    There’s no doubt whatever that these are resourceful animals, able to lay guilt trips on human beings who may prefer to eat all that turkey and chicken themselves.  So many people in Istanbul go beyond sharing their own plates by traveling about with large bags of the particular edibles that “their” cats like.

    You may go away from this nature story with the thought that we in the U.S. who own cats should not be keeping them indoors.  Dogs cannot tolerate sitting around in a living room if not taken out, and would tear up your apartment if you did not feel like walking them.  These cats love being outdoors all the time, taking a break from climbing trees and socializing with others of their ilk by stepping into restaurants for nourishment.  Who needs to remove the claws that nature gave to them and imprison them in your home when they should be let out on their own to roam for a few blocks, then return to you at the end of each day’s adventure?

    The many stars of this delightful movie may be the only ones who can with punity resist the growing powers of their country’s president, as they are not the sort who would take dictation from anyone whether with two legs or four.

    Unrated.  79 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
    Comments, readers?  Agree? Disagree? Why?