Gallipoli revisited

Russell Crowe

Russell Crowe

Movie  l  The Water Diviner  l  M

Russell Crowe has chosen one of the great narratives of modern Australia to make his directorial debut.

Crowe plays Joshua Connor, a Mallee farmer who makes a graveside promise to his wife four years after the First World War. He vows to bring the remains of their three sons home to be buried beside their mother – who quite literally died of a broken heart.

While many clichés are employed in the movie – the unforgiving outback, the laconic farmer, the sanctimonious priest, the larrikin digger – they serve to engender a comfortable familiarity. We know where we are and can probably guess what will happen, so we can relax and enjoy the journey to the end.

Crowe’s skill as a director is that he has managed to subtly tweak these familiar themes, respectfully questioning many modern myths by presenting them from a different perspective.

The mass grave that is Gallipoli has become synonymous with the romanticised Aussie spirit of mateship, bravery and cynicism towards authority. The Water Diviner does nothing to denigrate this legend, but offers an alternative, parallel narrative.

The opening scene sets the obverse tone of the movie. We are shown the end of the battle, as Turkish troops watch the defeated Anzacs retreat. It is clear that, rather than celebrating the fact they killed in greater numbers, for the Turks it is a celebration of relief – for now, at least, they won’t have to kill any more.

Such juxtaposition is effectively used throughout to illustrate the complexity of war.

The futility of sacrificing so many is coupled with the comradery and genuine love shared by men in battle.

The pompous bravado of those waging war from behind desks in war rooms is starkly contrasted with the soul-destroying burden of leadership felt by men on the battlefield as they order their young charges to a certain death.

Our nation’s reverence for bravery and heroic deeds is heartbreakingly deconstructed by a sobbing 17-year-old soldier calling for his mother as he slowly bleeds to death in a foreign land.

And the importance of faith to sustain a person throughout the most dreadful of tragedies is explored alongside the hypocrisy of cruel dogmatic doctrine.

Crowe is perfectly cast as Connor, the Aussie abroad standing up to authority and making mates along the way. Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz play Turkish soldiers, haunted by their experience at Gallipoli while reminding the ultimate victors (and the modern audience) they were, in fact, fighting for their homeland.

Olga Kurylenko plays Ayshe, the widow who runs the Istanbul hotel where Connor stays. While she is essentially a beautiful love interest, her character is given a rich back-story, so again we are aware that the significance of Gallipoli – both the place and the battle – is not exclusive to the Australian psyche.

That The Water Diviner manages to explore such heavy themes and still remain entertaining is its greatest strength.  Victorian screen writers Andrew Knight (best known for TV’s Sea Change) and Andrew Anastasios have ticked all the boxes for a successful modern movie.

Heartbreak, action, adventure, romance and even a cute precocious kid all combine to make this subtly anti-war movie accessible to the masses. As the centenary of Gallipoli approaches, The Water Diviner offers a timely reminder of the true tragedy of war.

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