Review: I learned more about Gallipoli from Russell Crowe than my entire schooling experience

Without a doubt, Gallipoli is part of what Australia and it’s people stand for. It is part of our folklore, our history, our culture. We are taught about the importance of the ANZAC spirit and mateship from a very young age, throughout school, and beyond. None of us who know it now can ever claim to understand the experiences the men who fought on the beach went through, but there have been many, many depictions over the years, that attempt to help us make sense of what occurred. The Water Diviner is another such film, and is essential viewing for all of us. And not just because it’s another Gallipoli story.

Before I saw The Water Diviner, I caught a short The Making of… featurette on TV. At one point, they edited in the interview Russell Crowe did with Sunrise hosts Samantha Armytage and David Koch. During this interview, Crowe kept coming back to the one point that I think we all now – at the centennial celebration – need to remember. Yes, Australians lost their sons, brothers, husbands, family. But so too did the Turkish. We lost thousands of our men, and so did they.

Crowe asked Armytage and Koch if they knew the name the Turkish had for Gallipoli, and neither could answer. He said this is why he needed to make the film, and why he decided to make it his directorial debut.
For a country of people who so strongly believe in the spirit of the men at Gallipoli, who believe in mateship, who now have nothing but love for the men and women of Turkey, we know so very very little about their side of the conflict.

At the heart of The Water Diviner is the story of a father who’s three sons enlisted and never came back from Gallipoli, and his hard-fought journey to bring them home again. But what starts as a father’s mission turns out to become an incredible look at Turkish culture, and the side of the war us Aussies don’t know a whole lot about. It’s a story about families on both sides of the trenches, and about what it means to be a man in wartime. While there’s an underlying tension between Crowe’s character and Olga Kurylenko that doesn’t sit particularly well with me, it’s really the only thing I didn’t love about this film.

Crowe’s performance as Connors is only outshone by that of Ryan Corr, who goes from strength to strength in each role he takes up. The neckline of my dress was drenched with tears at one point due to the daggers he drove into my heart and my uncontrollable eyes. Literally sobbing in the cinema, I was. (Apparently Yoda, I am now too?) In any case, I hope he doesn’t run away to Hollywood too soon, because I love seeing him in Australian films. It gives me hope that we really can ride this new wave of Oz Cinema and make something come of it, and keep our best here and working. (That’s a whole other blog post though!)

Jai Courtney is also great, as are the two Turkish actors onboard with this film, Yilmaz Erdogan and Cem Yilmaz. I did balk at some of the casting of the Turkish characters – at least three where white Australians, two of whom came from Home & Away. I’m not sure what Crowe’s motive was for those choices, but it would have been really wonderful to see more of those roles played by Turkish actors. There’s something increasingly unnerving about roles being played by those not of the ethnicity of the character. It’s like anyone who does blackface now; wrong on every level. Maybe that’s a naïve perspective on things, but seriously, you couldn’t find another Turkish woman to cast over Isabel Lucas? Mmm. Okay Russell.

The cinematography is glorious, and takes in all the natural beauty of rural Australia and Turkey. There are two skin-tingling scenes inside mosques that took my breath away, and will make you want to immediately pack your bags for a trip. I was kind of surprised, too, at Crowe’s style of direction. There’s probably a few tweaks required here and there, but in general, and especially for a debut behind the lens, he’s done a bang-up job.

I can’t quite put into words how moved I was by The Water Diviner. It had a lot of the bits and pieces I want in a film, and it pulled together what is an emotionally devastating story. I think it should be on every school curriculum that explores Australia’s involvement in the First World War. It’s a story of family, love, justice and mateship. It’s what Australians are all about.

And in case you were wondering, the Turkish call it Çanakkale.

Russell Crowe gets 8 cups of sweetened coffee for his troubles.

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