In the Australian national psyché, “Gallipoli”, like “Anzacs” (“Australian and New Zealand Army Corps” soldiers), is a sacred word, as is “Trafalgar” and “Verdun” in some other countries. Every year since it happened, on April 25, 1915, on Geriboli (Gallipoli) beach in the Dardanelles (Turkey), pols and journos and even preachers try to say something new about the disastrous debacle ordered by a certain Lord of the Admiralty, destined to become a hero of the Second World War but who in the First sent thousands of Australians to their death in a battle they clearly could never win. I have just discovered something about Gallipoli that is new – at least to me. It may even be new for you.
Decades ago I saw the original Peter Weir “Gallipoli” movie, in English. I have just seen another, more recent, movie with the same title but in Turkish – with French dubbing. It is the same event, but from the Turkish point of view. It is the touching story of two Turks, brothers, not only soldiers but snipers, particularly effective in creeping close to the Australian trenches and putting a bullet through Aussie officers’ heads. The Turkish soldiers are portrayed as nice guys, dedicated to their families and to their country, eager to defend their homeland against the foreign invader, courageously, and to the death if they must. This is hardly a surprise. What surprises the viewer, especially if s/he happens to be Australian, is the image of their enemies from Down Under. The Australian flag figures permanently in the movie, but when the Turks talk about their opponents in their signature slouch hats, they are referred to as “English”. Their officers are portrayed as arrogant and incompetent, and simple soldiers as cruel combattants adept at doctoring bullets to become “dum-dums”, to inflict wounds far worse than a “clean” bullet. The film ends with the heroic sacrifice of the elder of the sniper-brothers, who succeeds in blowing himself up along with the massive munition-dump of the . . . “English”.
“Gallipoli” is technically a very good film, directed by the talented Kemal Uzun, and starring excellent actors in both first and secondary rôles. A tribute to the Turkish troops, it offers a different view of the famous landing and the bloody massacre that followed, until the Australians were forced to pull out. It reinforces the conviction that war generates a momentum of its own, as well as the dehumanization of its combattants, committed to slaughtering each other. “The lunacy of it all !”, wrote years later an Australian 18-year-old naval wireless operator, who was there on Anzac Day, and who was later to become the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Norman Thomas Gilroy.
“Et Dieu dans tout cela ?” “And God in all that ?”. The movie’s one religious touch is the scene of a battalion of Turkish soldiers preparing for the final battle, all on their knees with heads touching the ground, invoking the blessing of Allah, who necessarily was on their side, as God was on ours.