Sunday, July 8, 2012

Cehennemde Senlik Var (Turkey, 1970)

Cehennemde Senlik Var (which translates to something like “It’s Festival Time in Hell”) is an action film in the classic Turkish pulp style, a never ending pursuit that frequently degenerates into a reckless running brawl. Star Yilmaz Koksal plays Ali, a verdantly mustached master thief who runs afoul of a murderous gang lead by Erol Tas, The Deathless Devil’s Dr. Satan himself. It’s a noirish scenario presented as a frothy thrill ride in the James Bond mold, with Ali more the rakish thrill seeker than haunted antihero. This particular branch of world cinema, after all, has as little use for antiheroes as it does for good guys and bad. There are only hard men and harder ones, and, as Ali demonstrates again and again, he is very, very good with the knife, the gun, and the fist. (Though mostly the knife, as it turns out.)

With Cehennemde, director Cetin Inanc demonstrates that the crude magic of the Turkish genre trade was still well with him as the 70s dawned, displaying all of the tricks that he learned in the 60s at the knee of master Yilmaz Atadeniz and then some. The film’s pacing is nothing short of incessant, with Inanc pulling out just enough askew angles and peculiar perspectives to keep the action interesting despite its repetitive nature. Also, with the doomed affair between Ali and the wayward daughter of his nemesis (Feri Cansel, a Turkish pulp cinema mainstay who played the leather clad sidekick to the title character in Inanc’s earlier Iron Claw the Pirate), he provides a surprising, if ever so slight, hint of tragic romanticism, as if we’re watching a wildly under-cranked version of They Live By Night that’s propelled forward by sucker punches and roundhouse kicks.

Like a lot of Turkish films of its type, Cehennemde fascinates by virtue of its very repetitiveness. Watching it, one can’t help but wonder if or when it will ever wind itself down, or if its seemingly endless cycle of running, fighting, capturing and torturing will somehow manage to perpetuate itself into eternity. As a result, its star, Koksal, becomes after a point little more than a careening battle top, his whirling limbs dealing out blows to an inexhaustible supply of similarly mustached, shades sporting goons. Goons to which, I might add, Koksal himself bears few distinguishing traits. Though displaying many of the hallmarks of Inanc's and Atadniz's costumed hero films of the 60s, Cehennemde, by eschewing the use of a masked protagonist, forefronts its emphasis on movement for its own sake even more. Why, after all, would you want to clutter things up with fantasies of transformation and dramas of concealed identities when there are multi-party shootouts, foot chases and fist fights to be attended to?

It probably no longer needs pointing out, but I nonetheless feel duty bound to report that the James Bond vibe here, as so often before, comes courtesy of John Barry himself, via his unwitting contribution of generous swaths from his score to On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Ali even gets to be heralded by the 007 theme itself, although his character displays considerably less of that iconic master spy's trademark suavity than his less celebrated thuggishness. Granted, the film's lack of subtitles prevented me from appraising the smoothness of Ali's pillow talk, but his zeal for smacking women across the chops translated all too clearly -- although this could also be said to be an occupational hazard for anyone getting within arms length of one who is so obviously a tireless punching and knifing machine.

Cehennemde Senlik Var careens to an end at a neatly rounded hour mark, and this not because, to my eye, anything was substantially missing from the version I watched. I instead think that, like it's protagonist, it simply ran out of places to run to. And in this I think it sets an admirable example for contemporary filmmakers, at a time when those films that most seem like they should be seventy minutes long -- be they cartoonish action spectacles or comic book adaptations outright -- are those most likely to stretch toward the three hour mark. By contrast, Cehennemde Senlik Var speaks to my need for thrills while respecting both my bladder and my nervous system, and for that I think it deserves an at least cordial tip of the hat.


Anonymous said...

Turkish James Bondesque Horror Movie???
Hmmmmmm....Sounds interesting. We are going to have to check this out.
And we salute you sir for another review of foreign cinema, there just aren't enough of them around in our opinion,

Liam and Pearl

Tars Tarkas said...

Hmmm... These guys don't look manly enough, I think they need bigger mustaches!

Todd said...

Or to combine their mustaches into one all powerful mecha-mustache!