The most objectionable thing about “The Ottoman Lieutenant” isn’t the flat acting or the cliché of a wartime romance triangle or the cheap and schmaltzy score.
It’s the revisionist history of the Armenian Genocide.
Set mostly in and around the Anatolia region of Turkey during World War I, “The Ottoman Lieutenant” almost completely glosses over the Empire’s systematic elimination of some 1.5 million Armenians, including women, children, the elderly and the infirm — an epic-scale atrocity the Turkish government denies to this day.
“The Russian invasion was upon us,” says the heroic nurse Lillie (Hera Hilmar), who narrates the story in a dreadful, monotone delivery.
“Some Armenian rebels joined the Russian forces to fight the Ottoman Army and all hell was breaking loose. … The rounding up of Armenian children and the elderly had begun.”
And after the “rounding up” came the death marches, the forced starvation, the rape — and the massacres. There’s barely a passing reference to any of that in this film.
The Icelandic actress Hera Hilmar affects a terrible American accent and gives a dull performance as Lillie, a fiercely independent free spirit from Philadelphia who sets out for Istanbul circa 1914 to provide medical supplies and lend her nursing skills to the local hospital.
Michiel Huisman (“Game of Thrones”) is the handsome and noble Lt. Ismail Veli, who at first regards Lillie disdainfully but quickly grows fond of her and then of course falls deeply in love with her. Josh Hartnett is the Christian missionary, Dr. Gresham, who skips over the “disdain” part for Lillie and quickly moves from affection to also falling for her.
And then there’s Sir Ben Kingsley, playing the founder of the hospital, who when introduced to Lillie bellows, “This is no place for a woman!” — but quickly becomes a father figure for her. Kingsley looks so bored with the proceedings one can almost see the paycheck in the pocket of his costume.
“The Ottoman Lieutenant” has legitimate production values and some powerful visuals. (Lillie’s voice-overs are accompanied by black-and-white stills that lend a verite touch.) A couple of action sequences are well staged.
That’s about it for the plus side.
At one point the not-so-good doctor sees Lillie just after she’s been with Lt. Veli. He holds her face in his hands, then recoils in horror and says, “My God, I can smell him!”
Yes, and we can smell the rancid coats of paint on this attempt to whitewash history.