More than 120,000 soldiers lost their lives in the deadly Gallipoli campaign in 1915. To capture the human spirit of the campaign through the experience of the soldiers, the film tells the story simultaneously from both sides, within the general structure of the battle. The film focuses on the diaries and letters of two British, three New Zealand, three Australian and two Turkish soldiers, ordinary men forced by history to do extraordinary things. In addition to newly uncovered diaries, letters and photographs, the film incorporates interviews with international experts, on-location landscapes, underwater and aerial photography, 3-D computer animations and dramatic re-enactments of trenches and battles.
Review by Louise Keller:
A potent and magnificent documentary, Gallipoli impacts emotionally through its humanity and intensely personal stories. It has taken filmmaker Tolga Örnek six long years to research, write, produce and direct this outstanding film that documents the thoughts of soldiers who fought on all sides of this futile fiasco of a war. Although Örnek's script concisely recounts the circumstances and events that took place in the lead up to the nine month war, in which tens of thousands of soldiers lost their lives, it is not a story about who won or lost. Everyone lost in this shocking conflict, when young men not only fought against each other, but against extreme weather conditions, severe hardships like the ravages of disease, flies and lice.
Jeremy Irons' distinctive voice as narrator links all the elements; Sam Neill reads many of the letters written by the soldiers to their loved ones. Also effective is Demir Demirkan's reflective, melancholy and beautiful soundtrack, echoing the different cultures. The reading of letters is interspersed with interviews, re-enactments, sketches, paintings and war footage. There are also newspaper headlines and maps that put the facts into context. We intricately become involved in the lives of 10 soldiers - from Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Turkey.
The personal letters reveal not only the detailed circumstances and conditions, but the extraordinary tenacity and bravery of soldiers from all sides. This is their story, and it is through their words that the real experience of the soldier is captured. 'You show me a man who says he's not afraid of shelling and I'll show you a liar...'; '...reached the firing line at last, exhausted. Bullets were whizzing past me and I wished that one would hit me. I was so dead beat.'; 'I am not afraid to die; Goodbye if it is to be'; '...I saw men crawling on their hands and knees. Grown up men crying like babies'; 'This afternoon pieces of human flesh rained from the sky...' (Örnek's superbly presented book, comprising letters, photos, clippings and maps is available as a collector's companion piece to the film and is thoroughly recommended.)
The war shattered any notion that war was glamorous. Bodies are piled up on top of each other up to three metres high, plagues of flies spread disease and the debilitating dysentery turns handsome, strong young men into hollow cheeked, emaciated old men. The sanitary conditions are appalling; some men even drown in their own excrement.
There was special relevance at the Australian Premiere in the NSW country town of Scone. Scone was home to two of the soldiers whose lives are traced through their letters to Una, the older sister who raised them after their parents died. Oliver Cumberland enlisted in order to keep an eye out for his brother Joe. 'I know it is useless to ask you not to worry about me, but remember I am used to roughing it...'; 'Una prepare yourself to hear the worst if you have not already heard it..'. We are profoundly moved by the simplicity of the letters' dialogue, as we share their hope and despair.
A fascinating insight, Gallipoli is above all a tribute to the courage and dignity of all the men who fought there. It's an intensely moving experience. The anti-war message has never been clearer.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The appalling horror of Gallipoli has never been captured so intimately, nor the military stupidity so cleanly. At one point, a Turkish officer begs the allied officers to stop sending their men over the trenches to certain death as they pop up like target practice figures in front of the Turkish defence guns. If the sickening conditions the soldiers had to endure doesn't make you weep, the decisions of the officers will.
Above all, Gallipoli presents the soldiers as human first, through their personal notes to loved ones far away. The intimacy of these letters is deeply moving, the humanity they show under extraordinarily harsh conditions profoundly humbling.
Tolga Örnek, an experienced young documentarian, has found the heart of these soldiers and through them, the intolerable cruelty of war. Although the focus is on the personal letters, these are always in context and the excellently written narration (superbly delivered by Jeremy Irons) helps tell the story of the campaign as a military disaster.
Sam Neill reads the letters and diaries with well judged melancholy, capturing in a single voice the many people the words represent.
Beautifully crafted in every way, Gallipoli is both a tribute to humanity and a condemnation of it.
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TOLGA ÖRNEK INTERVIEW
PREMIERE IN SCONE
NARRATION: Jeremy Irons, Sam Neill (Turkish by Zafer Ergin)
PRODUCER: Tolga Örnek, Hamdi Döker, Burak Örnek
DIRECTOR: Tolga Örnek
SCRIPT: Tolga Örnek
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Volker Tittel bvk
EDITOR: Maria Zimmerman
MUSIC: Demir Demirkan
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Oliver Munck
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Ronin Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 3, 2005