Anzac story told with brutal honesty
For the men in the trenches, enemy action was almost a relief
Gallipoli 7.30pm, SBS
WHEN dawn broke over the rugged cliffs of Gallipoli this morning there were probably as many young Australians and New Zealanders camped on the slopes above the beach as rushed ashore into the clatter of Turkish guns 93 years ago. Attending the dawn service there has become part of the rite of passage of young Aussie and Kiwi backpackers.
But the conditions those travellers faced today were vastly removed from the conditions the young Anzacs faced. It is unlikely that today’s young men and women can imagine the horrors their ancestors faced.
This Turkish- made documentary gives viewers some idea of what that doomed assault was like. Three years ago when filmmaker Tolga Omek first screened it in Australia — at the historic Civic theatre in the Hunter Valley town of Scone in NSW — many in the audience averted their eyes and more than a few had to flee the theatre.
Omek has produced one of the finest anti- war films of all time and it captures the brutal reality of war without apology.
I was standing with Omek after the screening when a woman, clutching her stomach and in tears, approached him and took him aside. ‘‘ I was apprehensive,’’ he told me later. ‘‘ She said the film made her physically ill. But then she took my hand and thanked me for making it because she never knew how the soldiers on both sides had suffered.’’
The then 33- year- old writerdirector spent six years working on the harrowing, two- hour film. It focuses on Gallipoli through the eyes of 10 men: three Australians, two British, three New Zealanders and two Turks. By using archival footage from both sides, old photographs, some re- enactments and excerpts from diaries and letters, Omek manages to bring the events of 1915 to life.
The full horror of the stiflingly hot summer on the Gallipoli Peninsula, with its fields of fly- blown and putrefying corpses, swarms of green flies, millions of fleas and lice, rampant dysentery and disease is brought home in graphic detail.
For the men sheltering in the trenches on both sides, enemy action was almost a relief.
At the Scone screening there were gasps of shock and occasionally startled cries from the audience as the film ran. More than one craggy- faced bushie could be seen brushing away tears when the house lights came on. Rewatching the film three years later, I found it was even more affecting and shocking. The absurd bungling of the British high command can still make you very angry.
The narration, by Kiwi actor Sam Neill and British actor Jeremy Irons, is excellent and the included comments from historians and old military types meld the film into a mustwatch experience.
D. D. McNicoll
Sense of the horror: A scene from tonight’s Gallipoli