Putting “September Eleven” in the title of your film pretty much assures that viewers are going to be thinking of one thing. Yet director Renzo Martinelli’s historical epic is not about the al-Qaida terror attacks of 2001, but the siege of Vienna in 1683, where the Holy Roman Empire and its catholic allies from Poland and Lithuania saved Europe from a much larger invading army of Ottoman Turks, bent on erecting a mosque in the heart of Christendom.
Actually, the climax of the monthslong siege — a cavalry charge by Polish lancers that routed the Turks — happened on Sep. 12, but why quibble about details when the aim of your film is to show that Islam has always been out to get the West? It’s exactly the sort of historical grievance (along with the Crusades) cooler heads were trying to avoid in the years following 9/11, to keep the extremists on both sides from inflating the crisis into a full-blown war of civilizations.
Directed and co-written by Martinelli, the Italian-Polish co-production, “The Day of the Siege: September Eleven 1683” makes a half-hearted attempt to show how brave all sides were, and how convinced they were of their own righteousness as they set out to exterminate each other.
The Turkish Pasha, Kara Mustafa (played by Enrico Lo Verso), is shown to be as decent and brave as Polish King Jan Sobieski (played by filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski). So far so fair, but any moral complexity or portrayal of how religion can push men into conflict is thrown away as a friar, Marco d’Aviano (F. Murray Abraham), becomes the man who unites the fractious Western powers; a catholic Gandalf who leads the troops into battle with his cross held aloft. There is little doubt in the last reel about exactly whose God was looking out for his people on that battlefield.
Martinelli’s film got a good bit of state funding from Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League, which is no surprise, and nor is the Turkish immigrant character saved by the friar who later goes on to abandon his Italian wife and become a spy for the Pasha. You can almost hear the film whispering in your ear: “These people can never be trusted.”
The dialogue is hokey in that way it usually is when you have a multi-national cast with a babble of accents, reading dialogue that sounds like a tweedy history professor trying vainly to interest his class on a warm and restless spring afternoon.
Despite a supposed army of extras, the battle scenes are numbingly dull, with cannon shot after cannon shot impacting and men going flying, often starting to fall milliseconds before the explosion. (And how do solid cannonballs explode anyway?)
“Between my heart and my faith, I must choose my faith,” says the film’s duplicitous Turk. Between this movie and a nap, I must choose the nap.