Film review – ‘September Eleven 1683’ or: How the Poles lost the Battle of Vienna 330 years after the fighting ended

by Mateusz Zatonski

The Battle of Vienna, which saw a league of Christian European states defeat the Ottoman Imperial forces at the gates of the Habsburg city, has a prominent place in the Polish historical psyche. Most Polish schoolchildren are taught from an early age that it was thanks to the brave Polish cavalry led by the Polish king Jan III Sobieski, who also held overall command over the Christian armies, that the Ottomans were prevented from continuing their conquest of Central Europe. In other words, the battle, which most famously included the largest cavalry charge in history, is the stuff of legends in Poland.

 It has been therefore clear for some time that a major movie production recounting the story of the battle would be produced. However, few saw the shape it would take. The first signs seemed encouraging. The movie, entitled in Poland The Battle of Vienna, was to have a budget of €12 million, making it the second most expensive Polish movie of all time. It was also to star F. Murray Abraham, the memorable Antonio Salieri from Amadeus (the role won him an Oscar), Jim Caviziel, and Harvey Keitel, alongside a number of famous Polish and Italian actors. The film was to be shown in 50 countries around the world and finally assure global immortality for Sobieski and his hussars.

Juliusz Kossak's painting (from 1882) depicting Sobieski receiving a captured Ottoman banneer

Juliusz Kossak’s painting (from 1882) depicting Sobieski receiving a captured Ottoman banner

But then things started to smell fishy. The movie was to be directed by the relatively unknown Italian director Renzo Martinelli. Martinelli was accused of having connections with the Northern League, the quasi-separatist north Italian party, known for its fervent anti-immigrationist stance. Martinelli’s previous film, Barbarossa, even featured a cameo performance by the controversial Northern League leader, Umberto Bossi. Quite quickly Jim Caviziel and Harvey Keitel dropped out of the project. On top of those setbacks, it turned out that The Battle of Vienna’s title for international distribution was to be… September Eleven 1683 (the battle itself actually took place a day later, but the producers let nothing stand in the way of a good title).

The film, which came out in Poland in October, was promptly bashed by audiences and critics alike. Its presentation of the war between the Christian ‘Holy Alliance’ and the Islamic Ottoman Empire as a simplistic battle of good vs evil (spoiler alert – the Ottomans are the bad guys), and the pushy religious symbolism was briefly noted. Nonetheless, the Polish media concentrated on complaining about its lack of real plot, paper-thin characters, and special effects that looked more like a Georges Méliès film, than a 21st century multi-million Euro production. Another common complaint was that little screen time was given to Sobieski, as the Italian director decided to make the Italian friar Marco D’Aviano the hero of the story.

Only when details of the movie reached Italy, where Martinelli’s connections with the Northern League were known, the time bomb really went off. Rather than complaining about plotholes or acting, Italian critics, more versed in the exigencies of political correctness (or simply cultural tact), quickly got to the heart of the matter. The movie about the Polish victory outside Vienna was labelled overtly racist by the more leftist spectrum of the media, and just a little embarrassing by the slightly more conservative journalists. The uproar wasn’t calmed by the fact that the movie was co-financed from tax money, or by the interviews with the director, who stated that his work ‘explores the roots of September 11, 2001’. Have a look at the trailer for yourselves for a glimpse of his in-depth analysis.

The film will be released in Italy in January 2013, and soon after in other countries. As distributors are getting increasingly uneasy about the film based on its early reviews and title, it is actually not quite sure what those other countries will actually be (or if there will be any). One thing, however, is quite clear – The Battle of Vienna will do little to promote Poland abroad, unless the promotion in question is that of the stereotype of Polish racism and a lack of cultural awareness. As one of the Polish reviewers, Jakub Demiańczuk, noted; ‘in order to be defeated at Vienna, we had to seek the help of some mercenary troops: Sobieski’s army was vanquished by the Italian Renzo Martinelli.’

16 comments

  1. Ron Ostrowski · · Reply

    I do not know about the racist elements. I understand this was not only a joint Polish and Italian production, but also Turkish as well. It looks impressive from what I can see in the trailer.

    I can’t wait to see this film, but I very much doubt that it would be screened in Australia. I will get the dvd, hopefully with the English dubbing.

  2. Thank you for your comment! Let us know what you thought about the film once you get a hold of a dvd.

  3. Mark Stasik · · Reply

    News of this production has been in the press for several years, initially rumoring that Mel Gibson would play Sobieski, and that an elaborate screenplay with rich characters and exciting, action-packed plot twists was already in hand (in the style of Sienkiewicz, it was even claimed). Obviously, a movie about this momentous event seems worthy of attracting a large audience, if handled skillfully. (“Barbarossa” was not a terrible movie if costumes and antique weaponry is your measure of historical drama). The trailer looks good in low res. Let’s finally see the thing, at long last! Where to get the DVD? Some parting curiosities for me are….are there any women in it?….and,…. does Italy even have enough horses to stage a massive Hussar cavalry charge?

  4. A quick google search revealed you can get a DVD (probably in Polish) here – http://www.ceneo.pl/20977516#tab=click_scroll
    Do let us know your thoughts once you see the movie!

    1. Mark Stasik · · Reply

      Thanks for the tip. I already ordered it through merlin.pl yesterday, but they said that it wouldn’t ship until 02-25 …….. so add another week or so for the international mails, and I guess we’re looking at early March as the soonest it could be on my T.V.
      Curiously though, the trailer I saw on youtube was in English, if I’m not mistaken.
      I’ll check back in with my review if all goes according to plan.

  5. This movie sucked. The battle scenes were crap and limited. I enjoy when movies give a historical backdrop. Showing the events leading up to the war being fought were marginalized to instead tell you about this “hero monk”, what a steaming pile of ….! Never mind the tactical mistakes made by the Ottoman army and the fact that Sobieski was able to take advantage of this, these thing don’t matter when you have the “true” god on your side. Fanatical non-sense attempting to back it’s claims up with a re-written history.

  6. I really have enjoyed the movie. Well done, very interesting. At last it was said that the King Sobieski was a hero in that battle. I watched it online and would like to purchase an English version. Where can I buy it? Linda

    1. Hi, it is available at amazon!

  7. Moazzam Tahir · · Reply

    This movie is shit.. There are lots of unrealistic things in that movie about Muslims.
    Hey Christens do you know about your bible ? in which language it came ? even there is not a single copy of bible in its real language.
    Read Quran with translations and you come to know about the real GOD our Allah

    1. Richard Rafail · · Reply

      Moazzam Tahir sounds like a screaming, bitter woman. 300,000 rock and moon worshipping idiots got there teeth kicked in by 60,000 christians and Sobieski’s Hussars.. The Bundt cake was invented in Vienna 9/13/1683 to look like a TURBIN these muslims wear, to honor the Gates at Vienna Victory. Cappuccino was invented by Monk Marco D’Aviano from the coffee and spoils these cowardly muslims left as they fled the battle field and ran home to mommie, UP YOURS, KARA MUSTAFA PASHA!!!

  8. Steve Herbes · · Reply

    I ordered this movie from Poland and watched it last night.

    I thought the movie was excellent! The plot follows the preparations in Constantinople and Vienna for the attack on Vienna. Most of the movie focuses on Blessed Marco d’Aviano, but there’s a nice ten to fifteen minute battle scene at the end.

    The entire movie is in English.

    The actors were all very good, but some of the explosions needed more special effects work.

    All in all it was a terrific movie. I highly recommend it!!!

  9. My parents are Polish. I was born in Australia.
    I just watched the DVD in English. I agree with many that the special effects are substandard. This story has a lot potential and this version could be reworked I feel by a more skilled group of technicians and it would look so much more convincing.
    I have seen this same movie story before in Poland some 39 years ago and that movie was of a much higher standard than this mixed race Italian directed effort. I felt this most recent version has far too much effort put into making Marco d’Aviano a saintly hero. It does not flow and you don’t connect with any of the characters.
    The fact, its not the September 11 battle or the events leading up to it but the important point is the Polish king or general Sobieski deciding to go to Viena to fight is the history changing event. Sobieski decided by himself in Poland to do that, and its probable that Europe would have become Muslim had he not done that. It’s important to understand that the Polish contribution was the tipping element and not the defining element. Also Sobieski had far more knowledge on how to fight that sort of battle naturally because of his age and previous experience. The reality is the combination everything resulted in Viena not falling and Europe remaining Christian. Who knows if we are better off today because of that defining point in history or maybe we would be better people if had we all become Muslim. Also the “Christian” colonies of America were just starting at that time and Australia and New Zealand had not even begun. They all may have been Muslim be that good or bad.

  10. I liked the film.

  11. I didn’t know that defending your country from foreign invaders was racist.. good to know..

  12. ‘September Eleven 1683 (the battle itself actually took place a day later, but the producers let nothing stand in the way of a good title).’

    How ironic you should write about false titles, kind of like the title you chose for your article.

  13. Jan Sobieski saved european culture from the asiatic hordes whose main plan was to conquer Rome and turn St Peter into a bloody mosque as they did with Hagya Sophia in Constantinople in 1453. They first had to conquer Vienna, known to them as the Golden Apple.

    You may or may not like the movie but to me the point is to remind us all that thanks to the poles, European freedom and culture was preserved. If to think that way is racists, then racism is OK.

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