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Review: The Water Diviner

Ros Hull

After the First World War, an Australian farmer travels to Turkey to find his 3 missing sons who died at Gallipoli. While staying at a hotel in Istanbul, he meets Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko), the hotel manager and her young son. imdb

I was on Facebook last night and noticed that one of my friends had posted a recommendation for this movie and had received a few replies … 173 replies and counting to be exact. Every. Single. One. Of them is a positive comment.

Including one from me.

I don’t think it’s a secret that I am not a fan of Big Russ. Ok, he is talented but he comes across as such a wanker I have not been able to warm to him. This is the film that has changed my mind. He stars in it and he directed it and it is splendid.

His direction is … well damn son, if this is your first effort, could you do it again? Please?

His acting is not just note perfect but subtle, even self-effacing, allowing everyone else to shine. The casting is wonderful – with Australian and Turkish actors filling every role except the hotel manager – and just no grandstanding at all. No ockerism, no chest thumping, not even much blame laid at Britain’s door. Here is a film that tells its story on a grand scale but makes its point quietly and fairly.

Yilmaz Erdogan, a superb Turkish actor playing the pivotal role of Major Hasan, has the only ‘one-liner’ (and even this is a stretch) when he responds to the Australian colonel (Jai Courtney) who asks for forgiveness for the attitude of his men by saying Australia lost more than 2000 at Lone Pine. The major says:

‘We lost 7000 and I am not sure I would forgive any of us.’

So telling, yet said without the punctuation of soaring strings or fanfare. Erdogan and the other Turkish actors are excellent, as is the whole cast. Again, snaps to Rusty for casting real nationalities – the single Kiwi in the burial unit at Gallipoli is even played by a Kiwi! He has also given young Australian character actors roles in which they can shine – from Damon Herriman employing a fine Irish accent as a priest to Dan Whyllie as a pompous (and pompously accented) British officer. Anyone who watched Love Child will remember Johnny Lowery, child of the revolution and urban hipster, played by Ryan Corr. In this film he plays the oldest of the ill-fated brothers heartbreakingly well.

The slightly magical elements of the story – divining water and sensing where the sons are – are handled in a very down to earth way and the (just lightly) romantic elements are handled as delicately as the balance between the Australian and Turkish stories.

It could have so easily gone down a different path.

2015 is the 100th anniversary of Australia’s involvement at Gallipoli, in case you aren’t already aware.

Neil Oliver’s series on the War Memorial has already screened on Fox. We’ve had ANZAC Girls. Gallipoli is being advertised on Channel 9. Yet another point to Rusty for getting his work out at the start of the commemoration before we reach saturation point.

I do not wish to be glib about this anniversary as I am in awe of the Australian service and sacrifice by both men and women in the First World War. I just wonder how many movies, series box sets and special commemorative albums, books and prints will be advertised by bronzed Anzac voices?

Don’t skip this film thinking it is cashing in on that wave of sentiment. It is a story worth telling, told lyrically yet with open eyes.

And in case you think Russell Crowe has gone through some form of enlightenment, watch the end credits. He thanks the Rabbitohs.

Ros Hull

Ros saw Star Wars and immediately wanted to fly the Millenium Falcon. Unable to do that she became a Jill-of-all-trades as her army husband whirled her around the world – and back to Canberra 10 years ago. She has worked in public programs and museum education ever since. She gained an MA in writing whilst getting two daughters through high school - both are now at university and undeniably fabulous (according to her). She can worry as an Olympic sport so she sees lots of movies instead. More about the Author

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