9 May 2005 | rsoonsa
Ample Wit To Offset An Overly Free Adaptation.
Turkish Marxist writer Yashar Kemal wrote his well received 1955 novel, upon which this cleverly composed film is based, in a neo-realistic albeit folkish style telling of a legendary outlaw of Southern Anatolia whose exploits in and near the Taurus Highlands are in support of poverty shackled small farmers with their struggles against oppressors: landowners of large estates and of surrounding villages. Peter Ustinov adapts Edouard Roditi's English translation while producing, directing, writing the screenplay and starring in this widely tailored version, titled THE LION AND THE HAWK for video distribution and, although the work is disdained by some critics, it is replete with Ustinov's finely honed wit. The year is 1923 as a regional governor, Agdi Agah (Ustinov) is confronted by a rebellious peasant, a more courageous than wise Memed (Simon Dutton) who is courting Hatche (Leonie Mellinger), a young woman equally smitten of her brash suitor, despite her having been selected to wed Agdi Agah's disgustingly slovenly nephew. When an attempt to kill the tyrant miscarries, Memed flees his village, joining a band of brigands whose plundering under Memed's eventual leadership is bothersome to wealthy property owners who are blind to basic needs of the region's peasantry. The Turkish government's customary offers of amnesty to the brigands are undone when revenge becomes a primary issue, and as the film's climax approaches, it must be hoped that the principal triumph will be enjoyed by the underprivileged masses, as in Kemal's novel. Filmed in the beautiful former Yugoslavia with a modest budget, this English/Yugoslav co-production is charged with enormously witty dialogue, and while Ustinov's fondness for satire and other forms of sardonic irony have caused admirers of the original to fuss a bit, a close scanning of Kemal's text reveals his consistent appreciation for life's inherent comedic elements, notably when amid scenes of tragic violence. A splendid internationally flavoured supporting cast is on board, including such as: from the British Isles, T.P. McKenna, Michael Elphick, Siobhan McKenna, Michael Gough, and Walter Gotell, with the latter gathering in the acting laurels for his turn as a Turkish Army sergeant who refuses to waive his ethics; Vladek Sheybal of Poland; and the Czech, Herbert Lom. Cinematographer Freddie Francis uses a full palette supplied by Panavision lenses to create striking visuals that mate well with an interesting storyline. Ustinov's penchant for giving other players free rein with role interpretations is the work's principal failing, with their characters upon occasion working at cross-purposes within and from the scenario; nonetheless, there is more than enough solid production quality here to satisfy most viewers.