A thorough recounting of the carnage when Allied Forces attempted to take the Dardanelles Straits and the title peninsula in Turkey during WWI, “Gallipoli” serves up the paradoxes and idiocy of battle as expressed in letters and journals written by the men (on both sides) who were there. First Turkish docu ever made on 35mm plays beautifully on the bigscreen where war buffs, historians and students of human nature will enjoy it prior to wide dissemination on TV and video. Docu hit French theaters Dec 7.
Clear, informative and frequently moving narration by Jeremy Irons and Sam Neill ties together six years of research by vet documaker Tolga Ornek. Drawing heavily on surviving correspondence, and skillfully illustrated with a blend of still photos, period footage and re-enactments, film keeps talking heads to a minimum. It brings to life long-dead adversaries who did their duty despite massive casualties from artillery, mines and the ravages of dysentery.
Viewers are introduced to a small cross-section of enlisted men and officers: two Brits, two New Zealanders, three Australians and two Turks who wrote of their experiences as they unfolded. (Only 5% of the Turkish forces were literate.) All, in their straightforward elegance, put the vast majority of contemporary e-mailers to shame.
When Ornek embarked on the project, he couldn’t have known just how pertinent the film would seem. While devoting most resources to the Western Front, British officials and military strategists approved the disastrous — and ultimately unwinnable — Gallipoli campaign without consulting their own intelligence warnings against an assault by land or sea.
Initial goal was to capture the Dardanelles so Allied ships could reach Russia. One historian says the Allies had no post-invasion plan: They simply expected the Turks to surrender and go along with their conqueror’s vision.
The first assault by a British and French fleet on Feb. 19, 1915, went badly, as did the second — three Allied ships were sunk — and nearly every subsequent attempt to dislodge the Turks. At one point, waves of British soldiers went lemming-like to their deaths in hopes of securing a plot of land “the size of a tennis court.”
Although their upper lips were admirably stiff, the soldiers hated the conditions — the stench of bodies in the unusually hot summer of 1915, followed by the snow of one of the coldest winters in decades, followed by flooding so intense that many drowned in the trenches.
The conflict got Winston Churchill demoted and made the career of Col. Mustafa Kemal. Later known to the world as Ataturk, Kemal would go on to install a republic and lead it as the first president of Turkey.
Tech credits are top notch.