The Water Diviner script, a joint effort by Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight, blends, like all good yarns, a combination of fact, fiction and fantasy. The fictitious tale is based on one factual line of a letter written by Imperial War Graves Commission’s Director of Works, Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Hughes (Jai Courtney) where he wrote: ‘One old chap managed to get here from Australia, looking for his son’s grave’. Farmer Joshua Connor’s reason for his trip is depicted in the line, ‘I promised their mother I would bring them home.’
The act of Water Divining is seen initially towards the beginning of the movie and later, after war has ceased and Connor, played by Russell Crowe, travels to and attempts to use his skill once again on the soil of the abandoned, desolate battlefield in Gallipoli.
While the pertinent facts of the Great War are known to most, the film adheres to Crowe’s wishes and that is to present a balanced approach to the soldiers’ war experiences from both sides. A heart-warming effort at fantasy is played out through the storybooks that Connor reads to his young sons.
The story is centred four years after the war in Gallipoli, or as is referred to by the Turks, in Canakkale. The brutality of war is presented in flashback scenes and any romantic notion of war is quickly dispelled when the audience sees and hears the continuous and at times, drawn-out suffering of shrapnel and bullet-ridden soldiers.
An historical reference is made of leader and founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the monument he established to honour the ANZAC soldiers who died in Canakkale or Gallipoli.
His compassion is revealed in the words on the memorial, ‘Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us. Where they lie side by side here in this country of ours… You, the mothers, who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace after having lost their lives on this land. They have become our sons as well.’ Ataturk 1934.
Turkish customs, social graces, arts and crafts, and history are shown through Ukranian female lead Olga Kurylenko, who plays Turkish hotel owner Ayshe, and her son Orhan, played by Dylan Georgiades. A multi-linguist, Kurylenko learnt just enough Turkish to interact and improvise in her scenes with actor Salih Kalyon, her on-screen father.
Having seen actor Cem Yilmaz in action, Crowe wanted him to play Jernal, the larger-than-life sidekick of Turkish Officer Major Hasan. His career began from caricature and comic drawings, but Cem unintentionally gained popularity and fame as a stand-up comic. The friendship between Crowe and Cem was such that Crowe tweeted him in Turkish, with the words, ‘darling Cem, you are not funny these days’.
Connor and Turkish Officer Major Hasan, played by Turkish actor Yilmaz Erdogan, find themselves reluctantly thrown together in the country. Erdogan persuaded Crowe to give him the part of Hasan by vowing that he would never regret it. He is now a contender for best supporting actor.
Jacqueline McKenzie has a brief and tragic role as Connor’s wife Eliza, and mother of their three sons, Art, Henry and Edward. She cannot accept losing their sons in the war and blames Connor for the loss.
Crowe insists his film can be shown to school children as it refrains from sexual scenes and swearing.
The film is shot in Mugla, Turkey; in and around Sydney; South Australia and at Fox Studios in Moorepark. Erdogan reported in a TV show that they, at times worked in 49 degree Celsius heat in some of the scenes shot in Australia.
Although Crowe misses out on any industry acknowledgement of his first role as Director, he has received a nomination for the position of best lead actor. In an interview with National film writer Neala Johnson, Crowe talks about his choice to make The Water Diviner his first foray into directing. He found, among all the variety of scripts sent to him over the years, that, ‘this one had all the right challenges’ and gave a ‘lump in my stomach while I was reading the script’. Crowe’s intention is to represent and honour an entire generation of Australian men lost to the war.
The film has been nominated for nine Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) awards, which include best film and also best original screenplay.
© Wendy Robinson 2015
Experience is not what happens to a man.
It is what a man does with what happens to him. ~ Aldous Huxley
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