Monday, August 12, 2013

Antar in the Land of the Romans, aka Antar Fi Bilad Ir Ruman (Lebanon/Turkey, 1974)

Antarah ibn Shaddad earned his place in history through his contributions to Arabic literature, but in Arabic pop cinema he is known primarily for kicking ass. This is as true in the previously reviewed Antar the Black Prince, which featured the ferocious Egyptian star Farid Chawki, as it is with the Lebanese/Turkish co-production Antar in the Land of the Romans. But, while Chawki managed to maintain a modicum of regal bearing throughout all of his muscle flexing -- allowing Antar the Black Prince to maintain some air of historical pageantry amid all its violence and sensationalism -– Antar in the Land of the Romans is a straight up peplum with Antar as a Hercules-like figure, and its muscle farming star – like Chawki, made up in black face for the part -- a dead ringer for a minstrel Lou Ferrigno.

Directed in Lebanese and Turkish friendly versions, with a mixed Turkish and Lebanese cast, by Samir ul-Ghusayni and Orhon M. Ariburnu, respectively, Antar in the Land of the Romans is an efficient and ruthlessly cheap little film. Literally every expense is spared in presenting us with the glory that was Rome. But first we join Antar in his homeland, where he is being dispatched by his tribal elders on some kind of quest. This time paired with a dopey sidekick named Murad, he bids farewell to his legendary love Abla (played, I think, by Turkish actress Taroub) and heads off toward flimsy sets unknown. The first stop is to steal from a shape sifting sorceress some kind of sparkly, magical shawl that doesn’t seem to end up having much in the way of plot utility.

However, things really kick into gear when we meet the siren Claudia, a vicious and sexually insatiable Roman royal who routinely has her minions toss her spent lovers out of the palace window. When she meets Antar, it is very clear that she like-a what she sees, but Antar, inconveniently, is all “Abla, Abla, Abla”. This does not sit well, and Claudia immediately begins plotting Abla’s capture, aided by her scantily clad handmaidens and a jealous centurion named Marcus (3 Dev Adam’s Santo himself, Yavus Selekman). Thus begins the repeated cycle of captivity, picturesque torture and rescue that exhausts the remainder of Antar in the Land of the Roman’s running time.

One needn’t be a movie detective to divine, fairly early on, that cheesecake and sexploitative shenanigans are Antar in the Land of the Romans’ raison d’être. As such, its actresses devote much of their screen time to the wearing of transparent nightwear and sexy banana eating. This, of course, is very dumb, but I’m afraid that decrying it would be somewhat hypocritical on my part as the women in the film are uniformly stunning and wear the little that they do very well. The actress who plays Claudia, in particular, is a real looker, as well as an ace at the haughty proclamations and looking of daggers that her role requires. I wish I could tell you who she is, but aside from some studied forum commentary, information on this film is very scarce.

Brisk and silly, Antar in the Land of the Romans plumps up its simple plot with a lot of satisfyingly low rent sword and sorcery trappings. There’s a weird looking giant in a furry suit with a mace and, at one point, a nude hippie nymph appears out of nowhere to do a stoned dance for Antar and Murad in the forest. The fights are staged terribly, especially those involving swords, but there are many of them, and we repeatedly get to see Antar hoist his opponents overhead and throw them Dara Singh style. Oh, and there is some gore, too. All in all, though the version that I watched was the Lebanese cut of the film, its reckless desire to entertain placed its Turkish DNA well in evidence.

At Antar in the Land of the Romans’ climax, Claudia puts Antar in a cage -- yes, she did! -- and we finally get to see the full fledged hulking out that we’ve been anticipating all along. A rage amped Antar pulls the bars apart, after which many centurions are so woefully flung. In the end, Claudia’s strange attempts to win the affections of the great warrior poet prove resoundingly ineffective as, true beloved in his arms, he hulks off into the sunset. The princess is left with nothing but her own bitterness -- and we Western Antar fans are left to plumb even more remote depths of world cinema to find his further exploits. Sniff.

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