As I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, I’m an ex-pat Brit living the high life in Nuevo Zealandia, my little piece of paradise (with frequent wet and cold bits). As such my knowledge of the Gallipoli campaign prior to my move here was minimal but it has certainly grown since my arrival. I’ve attended the dawn service at the cenotaph in Wellington and my kiwi Mrs has been to the dawn service at Anzac Cove in Gallipoli. Here, as in Australia, it is very much a part of the public consciousness and is an important event on the calendar.
There are a few films about Gallipoli, most notably ‘Gallipoli’ (1981) starring a young Mel Gibson and ‘The Lighthorseman’ (1987). Both Australian productions. For the best part of the early to mid-80s there was a burgeoning Australian great war film industry using the outback as a back drop for Northern France and Turkey. There’s also the TV mini-series Anzacs (1985) to round out the set. I’ll come back for reviews of all of these at some point.
My fodder today is slightly different from the films just mentioned in that whilst it’s about the Gallipoli campaign it’s written from the Turkish perspective. This instantly peaked my interest. Whilst not completely unique in telling the story from the reverse perspective to that normally seen in western cinema (All Quiet on the Western Front for example) this does make it stand out a bit and any chance to get a differing perspective on the conflict is a good thing in my book.
Filmed in 2011 on what looks like an absolute shoestring ‘Canakkale 1915’ is the story is of the 1915 naval bombardment and subsequent landings and entrenchment of the allied forces during the Gallipoli (or Dardanelles) campaign. Whilst the aforementioned ‘All quiet on the Western Front’ is written from the German perspective, its adaptation for the big screen was completed by a team of American writers. This along with the American accents used throughout by all the characters gives the film a very western feel. This is in fact my one big complaint about All Quiet… I’ll get round to reviewing it at some point. Canakkale 1915 on the other hand does not have the slightest western feel to it and, at least in theory, this is a good thing.
The film starts with swelling music and a guy shouting about patriotism, pretty standard stuff. I am immediately cast back to my recent re-watching of Flyboys (2006) where the constantly swelling orchestration was used by the director, in lieu of good acting or well written dialogue, to elicit a strong emotional response. I’m two minutes in and I feel I know where this film is heading. I groan softly to myself and quickly calculate I have a further 125 minutes to go (minus end credits……I hope).
The next thing I notice is the sheer weight of moustaches in this film. Swathes of them are flashed across the screen at every opportunity. I am assuming this is historically accurate although deep down I’m not too bothered. Marvelling at the moustaches gives me ample respite from the constantly swelling orchestration and overt patriotism.
As you can guess, the film has not started well. I can’t comment too much on the quality of the acting as it’s all in a language I don’t understand. It looks and sounds like they are reading from a punctuated script and the director is brandishing a whip just off camera should anyone have the temerity to ad-lib. I may be wrong of course and this could be a tour-de-force of Turkish acting talent. I have no idea.
There are occasional glimmers of hope. Early on, there is an allied attack. I think they’re British and one of the Turkish dudes firstly bayonets one of the British troops (which caused an odd nationalistic sensation within me) and then he sets about some others with a bent shovel. Smashing them about the head with glee. I laughed. After this is a scene where the Turks are laying mines at sea to halt the oncoming armada. There is great detail put into showing us how the mine is laid. How it sinks and the mechanism for it floating back up to just below the surface. This is all done in CGI and is fascinating, although the detail doesn’t add anything to the story overall. There’s also a brief poignant scene with two turks holding out against oncoming soldiers but then the music swells again. Face, palm.
On the subject of CGI there is an absolute howler during a wide, hover shot of the oncoming armada. The boats, probably 60 or more, are steaming towards the coast. Some large, some small, some with guns, some slow, some faster. One, near front and centre, going sideways at about 20 knots. To not notice this glitch in the CGI software is almost unforgivable. Again, I laughed. The big guns of these ships then open fire on the coast line causing small spits of sand to cough up in the air as if kicked by an infant. The Turkish immediately return fire with small calibre field guns and the ship explodes into a million pieces after the first hit. I am starting to go numb down one side. I could go on. Okay, I will. There’s a scene where a big field gun needs some massive 200kg shells carried by one of the Turks. There follows 5 minutes of a gurning man struggling to carry an oversized polystyrene suppository on his back. You’ll be glad to know he made it….4 times. This is historically accurate apparently and the guy who did it has a statue and everything, but it just looked bad on film. Why didn’t anyone help him? There’s a musical interlude after all this with the Turks having a good old sing song together.
Then it all comes to a head with, for me, the best bit. There are some Turkish Generals sitting round on a holy day. They’re all calm and making polite conversation about their wives and children then, mid-sentence, from nowhere, no noise, no signs of battle around them, massive explosion. All gone, red mist. A few more minutes of stuff and then the end battle where the two sides simply run at each other like it’s the Battle of Bannockburn or something. Really weird ending, that doesn’t seem in the least bit historically accurate. My notes for this bit simply say ‘Not sure about that!’
So what can I take away from this experience? Not too much. I have other Turkish Great War films to watch and I will go into these with an open mind. It just wasn’t very well put together. All of the generals look like teenagers in their Dad’s dinner jackets with glued on moustaches. The CGI is mostly poor. The writing is borderline propaganda. Is it my western eyes tainting how I view this film? Possibly. If anyone reading this feels the need to offer me a checksum then please give ‘Canakkale 1915’ a watch and let me know. To finish, I’ll paraphrase Blackadder Goes Forth (something else ‘Great War’ which I hold dear) and conclude that this film ‘started badly, tailed off a little in the middle and the less said about the end the better, apart from that it was excellent.’
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