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Turkey 2005
Directed by
Tolga Ornek
120 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Gallipoli (2005)

Synopsis: The military debacle of Gallipoli is seared into the consciousness of most Australians but very much from our national point of view but the nightmare of war and that particular campaign was horrific for all the soldiers concerned

I was tempted to think this could be yet another boring tale with all the stuff I'd seen umpteen times before, but from the opening scenes of this insightful and unbiased documentary was aware that this one was taking a different slant. The opening voice-over of a soldier describing life as "savagely simple here" sets the tone for the entire approach. It looks not so much at the details of the military campaign, but at the experience common to soldiers on both sides. Its Turkish director, Tolga Ornek, says he wanted to tell the story in the soldiers' own words, using diaries and letters and following the campaign through the eyes of a select few characters, from both sides. And so we meet two British, three New Zealand, three Australian and two Turkish soldiers and hear first-hand what their experiences were. While we are also given the basic historical and military campaign facts, there is more emphasis than in previous films on the subject on the day-to-day experience of the campaign - what life in the trenches was like - the graphic detail of the flies, the food, the dysentery, the latrines, the stench, the death and despair.

Ornek uses a technique of intercutting throughout. Thus we see still photos of the various characters, many of them close-ups that invite us into the lives and hearts of these men. We see shots of the men at home with their families, and hear the letters written home by one Turkish soldier to his beloved wife, by a pair of Aussie brothers to their sister and by a British lad to his parents. All the letters are heartfelt and make us feel engaged with this tragedy on a personal level. There is also archival footage from newsreels of the day, and this is interspersed quite seamlessly with dramatic recreation to give the film immediacy and intensity. Ornek cuts often to scenes of present-day Gallipoli - the craggy hills with flushes of red poppies and other wildflowers, the beautiful beaches, and the sad memorial at Lone Pine with the names of soldiers laid out in rows. The contrast between then and now is achingly poignant, and the glorious soundtrack by Demir Demirkan only adds to one's emotional engagement and the awareness of the utter futility of war.

Ornek employs a terrific group of consultants, many of whom speak on screen: Les Carlyon, author of Gallipoli, Kenan Celik, a Turkish military historian, Peter Stanley, an Australian War Memorial historian and more. Voice-overs are by Jeremy Irons and Sam Neill and a number of other Australian and British actors, with the narration being done by one of Turkey's leading actors, Zafer Ergin.

Although a powerful anti-war statement, the even-handedness and humanity of this telling of the Gallipoli story is a credit to Ornek. The film speaks to everyone, regardless of on which side of the conflict their heritage lies and even whether or not they have heard of this tragic event.




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