A Couple Worthy Indies in the Shadow of “Kong”
By Skip Sheffield
“Kong” is the big tent pole movie this weekend, but there are a couple of worthy small independent films in limited release.
“The Ottoman Lieutenant” is a romance set in 1914 in the former Ottoman Empire, now Turkey. It also is a history lesson. Now I know why Armenians and Turks hate each other so much.
Hera Hilmar plays Lillie, an idealistic American girl from a good family in Philadelphia. After hearing a lecture by a doctor named Jude (Josh Harnett) who runs an American Mission Hospital in Turkey, she decides to volunteer and donate a truck that belonged to her late brother, filled with needed supplies.
“I thought I was going to change the world,” she muses. “The world changed me.”
So begins a great adventure. Getting a large truck to Turkey is no easy task. Things soon go awry. Ismail (Michael Huisman), the Ottoman Lieutenant of the title, rescues Lillie from bandits and escorts her to the hospital, where against the advice of crusty Dr. Woodruff (Ben Kingsley), Lillie dons nurse’s garb and goes to work.
Coming to a flashpoint is the conflict that became known as World War I. The Ottoman Empire was shattered and split into Turkey and Armenia. Turks tortured and murdered Armenians in one of the largest genocides of all time. When Lillie falls in love with the dashing Lieutenant from the wrong side, it sets up a volatile triangle with Dr. Jude, who has fallen hard for Lillie.
“The Ottoman Lieutenant” is an old-fashioned historical romance set in the rugged, beautiful wilderness of Turkey. The conflicts it depicts remain pertinent today.
Orthodoxy in “The Women’s Balcony”
“The Women’s Balcony” is a specialized movie set in old Jerusalem and aimed at the Jewish audience. Tikva (Orna Banai) is the feisty wife of Zion (Igal Naor), who owns a small sweets shop. According to Orthodox Jewish tradition, the women are separated from men in worship. In this case they are consigned to a balcony, which collapses during a boy’s bar mitzvah, sending the rabbi’s wife into a coma and the rabbi into a deep depression.
Stepping into the breech is the young, charismatic Rabbi David (Avraham Aviv Alush), who takes matters in hand getting the synagogue repaired. Rabbi David is ultra-orthodox however, and he imposes his conservative beliefs up the congregation and especially its women. The rabbi doesn’t want the women in public without head covering. He puts the rebuilding of the women’s section on the back burner. The women naturally rebel and become estranged from their husbands.
I am not Jewish but I do know the problems that come with rigid restrictive beliefs of any stripe. For that I found “The Women’s Balcony” a pertinent recasting of the ancient Greek tale of Lysistrata.