Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Thanks to Netflix, Americans have readier access to a more complete range of films from around the world than they ever had before. That means not just art-house or cult/exploitation fare, but middle of the road stuff that represents each country's popular cinema. Labirent, for instance, is a Turkish counterterrorism thriller written and directed by Tolga Örnek, and in many ways it's like counterterror thrillers you might see anywhere. Adorned with 24-style split-screen effects, the film shows the complicated hunt for an Islamist terror cell (with some roots in Germany) carrying out suicide attacks in Turkey. What's different about it is a critical but not quite hostile attitude toward the west, here represented by a British spy (Martin Turner) who collaborates with the Turkish heroes but clearly serves his own country's agenda, even when it compromises the Turkish operation. What comes through is Turkish resentment of the western attitude, probably portrayed here accurately, that doesn't really trust the Turks to keep their own house, much less the region, in order. After all, this is the Turkey of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist of sorts in his own right with alleged authoritarian tendencies. Labirent, however, doesn't appear to represent Erdogan's point of view.

Örnek made his name in part with an admiring documentary film about Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the man who abolished the Islamic Caliphate and founded the secular Turkish republic. A picture of Ataturk is conspicuous in this film's anti-terror headquarters, and perhaps even more conspicuous, if not scandalous in the eyes of culturally conservative Turks, is the prominent heroic role of Reyhan (Meltem Cumbul), a female anti-terror operative who serves as the film's second lead after its more tragic male hero Fikret (Timuçin Esen, who speaks fluent English in scenes with Turner). Reyhan is a generic international superwoman, and I say that with admiration. Captured by the terrorists, she's put to the torture, punched repeatedly in the face, subjected to long electrical shocks, and made to watch a friend executed in front of her. Apparently beaten unconscious, she's only playing possum, waiting for just the right moment to untie herself and beat her torturer to death. For a fleeting, almost fatal moment she comes face to face with her antithesis -- a girl terrorist wearing traditional headcovering and wielding a gun, but in the next moment Reyhan's buddies come to the rescue.

One moment Reyhan is down (above), the next she's up and the other guy's down.

Labirent is a little too self-consciously dour and tragic to be that much fun most of the time, and like many a counterterror thriller it grows repetitive portraying terrorists out on walks being stalked by strolling antiterror agents. It has just enough local flavor and attitude to make it not quite as generic as it could be, but fans of the genre from around the world probably could sit through this without finding anything really alien about it. I'm still not sure if that's a virtue or not.

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