The Water Diviner

THE WATER DIVINER. Starring: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Yilmaz Erdogan, and Jai Courtney. Directed by Russell Crowe. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 111 min.

Inspired by true events, this Australian historical drama is the first feature movie directed by Russell Crowe. The story has been adapted from a screenplay written by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios.

The drama concerns a grieving Australian farmer and water diviner from Northern Victoria, Joshua Connor (Russell Crowe), who travels to Turkey in 1919 after the battle of Gallipoli, following the death of his wife. He wants to find his three missing sons, and fulfil his wife's dying wish to bury their sons in consecrated ground.

In 1915 at Gallipoli, Australia's main military objective was to take Constantinople (now Istanbul), Turkey being an ally of Germany. Many thousands of Australian soldiers were killed in the campaign, and although the military campaign failed, it left a powerful legacy that has endured. The legend of Anzac carries with it important cultural messages, however, and this film addresses them pointedly.

Connor presumes all three sons are dead. All he knows for certain is that none of them came back to Australia, and he wants closure for his own sake, and for the sake of his dead wife. The film deals with events that take place after Gallipoli, and is less about the war than the people who have survived it. The movie itself is not the depiction of Gallipoli experience that one expects. It offers insights into Gallipoli that stretch the boundaries of our understanding of what soldiers on both sides of the conflict endured during the war, and after it was over.

Requesting clearance for his search, Connor is refused permission by the authorities, but presses forward relentlessly, and eventually earns the respect of Lt.-Col. Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney), who decides to help him. He forms an enduring friendship with Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdogan), thought to be his Turkish enemy by war, and he develops a relationship with a Turkish war widow, Ashe (Olga Kurylenko) and her son, who give him emotional support.

Connor discovers that one of his sons may still be alive, but he is asked the question: "why did he not come home?" The film deals primarily with the struggles of people after war is over to survive, and to cope with their sorrow. For some, like Connor, it means the desire to bury their dead.

The movie inevitably offers opinions about the Allied attempt to take the Dardanelles from Turkish control. Crowe attempts to elaborate on what he sees as the mythology of Gallipoli. He sees life wasted on both sides and the necessity to understand the needs of people affected by war after it is over. The film opposes the notion of the celebration of Anzac. It argues that Anzac Day is a day for remembrance, but not for celebration.

The film is a moving tribute to the war history of two different countries, and it asks for respect for both Australian and Turkish soldiers, and for their peoples. It is a powerful statement on the futility of war and the importance of sustaining friendships that encompass the sharing of terrible events.

Crowe's direction of the movie is impressive. He holds the film at a distance from his obvious emotional involvement with the history of Gallipoli, and takes the part of Connor with quiet dignity and acting skill. The cinematography behind the film is excellent - from the regional areas of Victoria and their unbelievable dust storms, to the desolate and barren landscapes of Turkey. The movie blends the battle sequences of war effortlessly with the human drama.

This is a movie that asks for a human response to the events of Gallipoli. It pulls a message from all war: loss of life in war is tragic, and any war creates an aftermath that needs to be recognised. The film's core message is that Gallipoli, like all war, needs to be remembered and understood, and the most important thing about warring peoples in the past are the friendships that can endure between them in the present.

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for film and Broadcasting

Entertainment One Films

Released December 26th., 2014

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