Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Turkish Ice Cream **

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 24th March, 2019

Turkish Ice-cream 1Comedy can sometimes be a powerful method of highlighting the futility and awfulness of war. One thinks of Richard Attenborough’s directorial début, Oh! What a Lovely War, for example. And that was what Turkish film director Can Ulkay had in mind when he made his latest film, Turkish Ice Cream, a drama mainly set in a hick town in Australia in 1915. This opened at cinemas all over Turkey recently and will be screened at the London Turkish Film Week next month. In fact the film embraces three quite separate genres: comedy, horror and action, in what I found a sometimes uncomfortable mix. The two main actors — the ice cream seller Mehmet, played by Ali Atay, and a fairground cameleer, Ali (Erkan Kolcak Kostendil) — make an attractive comic duo along with Ali’s fetching camel. But slapstick soon gives way to more serious violence as the town turns on the two Turks once the Ottoman Empire joins the First World War and they therefore become enemy aliens.

Turkish Ice-cream 2Fleeing the wrath together with Ali’s wife and baby and Mehmet’s deaf and dumb new Australian girlfriend, they find what appears to be a safe haven until that is discovered and retribution falls in a bloody scene of Tarantino intensity. Mehmet and Ali nonetheless manage to escape and subsequently engage in a 2-man war against the British army (which has been recruiting local youths to go off to the Dardenelles) in sequences that are a role-reversal of David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia. This time, it is the Turks who hatch a plot to blow up a Anglo-Australian train, in which there is a dastardly English captain (Will Thorp) who has become their sworn enemy.

This action part of the movie will doubtless appeal to mainstream audiences in Turkey in search of heroic ethno-nationalist validation, but I wasn’t persuaded by the argument that the inevitable slaughter conveyed a compelling anti-War message. Can Ulkay has had some marked success with previous films and reportedly commanded a budget of $26million for this one. That enabled him to build an entirely artificial Australian town in a wasteland in Turkey, which nonetheless resembles a gigantic stage set rather than a realistic community. Buildings helpfully have huge signs on them, such as HOTEL, to enable the cinema-goer to follow what is going on. The English sub-titles used in the copy of the film shown at a Press launch at the Regent Street cinema (attended by the amiable director) were clearly not produced by a native speaker, alas, making them clunky and distracting, which is a shame. But maybe those viewers who are able to suspend their disbelief more than I was able to, and who like a film that provides comedy, horror and action all in one, will enjoy it more than I was able to.

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