A review of the film's American premiere,
at the Muslim Film Festival, Fremont, California, July 29, 2006
The controversial Turkish film Valley of the Wolves Iraq had its North American premiere at the Naz 8 Cinemas in Fremont, California, as part of the 2nd Muslim Film Festival on July 29, 2006. I attended out of curiosity to see just exactly what this film was like, and how it would be received by an American audience.
The small screening room at the Naz 8 theater was full to capacity with about three hundred people, mostly middle-class, middle-aged Muslims from Fremont's large Afghan and Indo-Pakistani communities. Which, as it turns out, is not really the intended audience for a film like this...even if, as I was soon to discover, the American version was edited to remove part of one of the most offensive scenes.
To say that Valley of the Wolves Iraq has something that could be identified as a "plot" is perhaps being a bit too generous to the film. It has a very distinct setting -- northern Iraq during the war in 2003 -- and memorable characters (to be described below), but no real coherent story line, instead being mostly just a series of vignettes loosely connected by repeated explosions and gun battles.
The film starts with a real incident that received almost no press in the United States, but which apparently was a major scandal in Turkey: a group of American soldiers search a Turkish military outpost, and put hoods on the heads of the Turkish soldiers. (Because this one brief scene supposedly really happened, the filmmakers have claimed that the entire film is "based on a true story," when in fact the rest of the film is pure fiction.)
A trio of Turkish secret agents then go to Iraq to avenge their nation's honor by hunting down and killing the American commander who ordered the raid. This mysterious American, played by Billy Zane, is identified in the press materials and in various reviews as a "CIA officer," but in fact the film never really clarifies who or what he is. Zane plays him as a comic-book super-villain, 110% pure evil, manipulating or randomly killing people whenever it serves his purpose. And -- naturally -- he's a born-again Christian who prays to Jesus for success with his demonic plans.
The Anti-Semitic Subplot
For reasons that are never explained, part of his job is to supply fresh victims to a Jewish doctor played by Gary Busey, who vivisects them and sends their healthy organs to Jewish clients in Israel, the United States and elsewhere. Or so I was led to believe by the reviews I read before viewing the film. But as I left the theater I was scratching my head, wondering if I had fallen asleep during part of the film and missed some critical plot elements about "The Doctor," as Busey's character is called.
In the version of the film I saw, Busey has only three or four brief scenes, which do indeed depict him as an evil Jewish doctor who steals organs from living Iraqis, but which never show him actually sending the organs overseas. After a great deal of searching I discovered that at least a portion of one of the Doctor's scenes was cut from the version that was shown at the Muslim Film Festival, and perhaps from all the versions to eventually be released in the United States. The missing frames -- a short scene showing the organs in ice chests being sent to Jews around the world -- could be considered the most anti-Semitic. Luckily, I was able to find an online version of it.
The dialogue below comprises all the scenes with Gary Busey contained in the version I saw, or at least those I remember seeing. You may notice that the character is never really introduced properly and his story seems very incomplete. If you want to hear an audio version of these scenes, you might be able to do so by searching for the phrase "Gary Busey's "Doctor" scenes in Valley of the Wolves Iraq" at youtube.com.
Scene 1: The Doctor (Gary Busey): I told you that these are living people, not animals.
Thuggish U.S. soldier: I have more respect for animals, SIR!
The Doctor: Oh yeah? If you don't stop killing my patients so I can remove their organs properly, I will kill you while you're sleeping.
Scene 2: The Doctor: Don't make me report you to the authorities, because I will. You're my friend -- let's not forget why we're here.
Sam Marshall (Billy Zane): I'm out there, every goddamn day, busting my ass for your safety. I'm setting Kurds, Turks and Arabs against each other, and you're complaining about kidneys? What're you kidneying me?
The Doctor: I want to know why you're being so selfish.
Sam Marshall: Stop pestering me! Just lay off! I'm -- y'know how taxed I am? Ya got any idea? Stop bugging me about these trivial matters.
The Doctor: All I want is for the prisoners to be treated well. I need them. I don't care who you kill, why you kill 'em, how many you kill. That doesn't matter to me. But if you're going to bring me bodies, I need you to order your men to stop shooting them on the road! I need the organs ALIVE!
Scene 3: Sam Marshall: I don't understand, those who dream to go to heaven, yet do not embrace our lord Jesus Christ.
The Doctor: I'm not going to heaven and you are? Is that what you're saying?
Sam Marshall: When Jesus departed this world, he gave it to you. And we've been chosen by him to show you the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Doctor: Well, I have no objection to that, but my people are the only people who made a covenant with God. And because of that, he anointed us to be the chosen ones. How can you beat that?
Sam Marshall: Morphine.
However, the first scene above (i.e. the one that I saw) is an edited version of the original, and is not the full scene shown overseas. I'm not sure who edited it, but I'm sure it was removed so American audiences couldn't see images of the Jewish doctor conspiring with Jews around the world to steal Muslim body organs. You can view the full unedited scene on Google Video here. The scene doesn't have dialogue in English, so instead I'll give a brief description for those who can't view the video -- the portion in bold was the part removed from the American version:
Trucks are seen pulling into Abu Ghraib prison. Inside, the Doctor removes a kidney from an unconscious patient, and carefully places it in a portable ice chest. He says something to a nurse. The trucks stop deep inside the prison. American soldiers place portable steps behind the largest truck. They open the doors and drag out the bodies of the Iraqis inside (who had been massacred earlier). The surviving Iraqis are brought down the steps and placed on stretchers. Back inside, the Doctor, having filled several ice chests with organs, is placing shipping labels on them.
It's not clearly visible in this video, but the shipping labels apparently have on them addresses in Israel and the U.S., according to earlier reviews of the Turkish release. The scene then continues at the beginning of the first video on this page, with Gary Busey saying, "I told you that these are living people, not animals" (dubbed into Turkish) as he inspects the dead and wounded Iraqis that have been brought to him.
But really, aside from its controversial anti-Semitic aspect, Valley of the Wolves Iraq is just plain bad. Imagine someone randomly editing together all the discarded scenes left on the cutting room floor from a second-rate Chuck Norris action movie, and then dubbing it into Turkish. Voila! You've got Valley of the Wolves Iraq.
OK, maybe it's not that bad, but it's close. It's as if the filmmakers made a list of unrelated scenes that they knew would infuriate Turkish and Muslim sensibilities, and then concocted a flimsy storyline to connect them all together. Americans putting hoods on Turkish soldiers? Check. Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse? Check. American soldiers shooting up a Muslim wedding? Check. And on it goes: children being used as human shields, Americans insulting a Muslim woman, rogue CIA agents backstabbing everyone within reach, traitorous Kurds helping the Americans, Christians imagining that they are superior, Jews stealing organs, etc. Mostly, the film exists as a Muslim revenge fantasy -- revenge for the humiliation and shame brought upon them by the Americans and their allies. The Turkish secret agent is the everyman figure, meting out justice to the Christian and Jewish evildoers.
But there's another aspect of the film that will ensure it will never be a hit anywhere outside Turkey and certain Turkish neighborhoods in Germany: it is very specifically pro-Turkish, and anti-everyone else. Even other Muslims groups are shown in a bad light. In the Valley of the Wolves universe, the Kurds are second only to the Americans in their villainy. The Arabs are shown as buffoons easily tricked by the Americans. Because of the film's Turkocentric outlook, the audience at the Naz 8 were notably unenthused about Valley of the Wolves, and gave it very brief polite applause at the end, and nothing more. No one jumped out of their seats. No one cheered the heroes or booed the villains. And if it can't generate any enthusiasm at the Muslim Film Festival, there's no way Valley of the Wolves will ever become a hit in the general population.
Much of the dialogue revolves around the ethno-politics of northern Iraq and southern Turkey: Turks are always the good guys; next on the scale of heroism are the Turkomans, ethnically Turkish people who live in northern Iraq; below them is a Turkish Kurd who has abandoned his Kurdish identity to become a Turkish nationalist; then there are the foolish Arabs, who strangely play a very peripheral role in the script; lower still are the separatist Kurds, who want to steal part of Turkey for their homeland; then the brutish American soldiers, who act like Neanderthals; then the scheming Jewish doctor, and finally, at the bottom, the born-again Christian devil played by Billy Zane.
OK, playing a villain, whatever his nationality, is a normal part of any actor's career, especially for Billy Zane, who often plays bad guys (such as the cruel husband character in Titanic). So he can be excused. But how could Gary Busey appear not just in a Turkish nationalist propaganda film, but as an overtly anti-Semitic caricature? What was he thinking? How desperate could his career be that he would sink that low?
To their credit, ironically, both Busey and Zane were practically sleepwalking through the film, both easily giving their worst-ever performances, on the assumption that no English speaker would ever see it. But they're not entirely to blame for their ludicrous lines, as the script was strictly amateurish. Not just the dialogue -- almost everything was ill-conceived. Despite being an action film, Valley of the Wolves's pace is actually plodding and slow, with lots of go-nowhere talking punctuated by the occasional gun-battle. And loose ends are strewn everywhere. The team of Turkish agents go to great lengths to protect a mysterious briefcase -- yet its contents and purpose are never revealed.
Yes, Valley of the Wolves Iraq is as anti-American as it is rumored to be, and yes, it is anti-Semitic as well -- though the English-language version, with its edited-out scenes, is somewhat less offensive. And it is equally anti-Christian, though this aspect is rarely mentioned. But mostly it's just a cinematic dud, a ridiculous Turkish propaganda film that has little to interest anyone who isn't a nationalistic Turkish teenager with too much testosterone.
I'd be interested to see what scenes are left in and what scenes will be edited out when the film is officially released in the American market, later this year.
If you'd like to decide for yourself, the entire film can be seen online at Google Video; the clip of the first half has its original audio but is subtitled in German, and is high-quality; the clip of the second half was filmed in a theater showing a version in which all the dialogue was dubbed into Turkish. (Note: I did not make or record the videos linked to here; they were apparenly made in Turkey and/or Germany, and they are hosted by Google, which is responsible for its own content).