The Water DivinerThe Water Diviner
The Water Diviner Poster

May 22 — May 28

The Water Diviner

Rated R for war violence, 111 minutes

Link to film's website

Fri 5:30 8:00
Sat & Sun 2:00 5:00 7:30
Mon-Thurs 5:30

Unless otherwise noted, films begin on Friday and run through the next Thursday.

As we prepare the celebrate Memorial Day on May 25th, it’s worth noting that other countries have their own version of this holiday, for what nation has never been touched by war?  Down Under, April 25th marks Anzac Day, which commemorates the sacrifice of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS) during the Gallipoli Campaign of WWI. Over 30,000 ANZACS troops were killed or wounded in the Dardanelles region of Turkey, and several more were missing and never recovered.  The most recent Anzac Day marked the 100th anniversary of that campaign, so The Water Diviner, which deals with the direct aftermath of Gallipoli, has special significance for Australian and Kiwi audiences.  But it doesn’t rely on patriotism or one’s knowledge of military history to pack a devastating emotional punch. Like the best war movies, it’s universal in its themes and gives us characters to whom viewers of any nationality can relate. It’s also the directorial debut of actor Russell Crowe, who’s clearly learned from the masterful filmmakers he’s worked with (particularly Ridley Scott) how to put together an exciting, sweeping epic that contains plentiful action, suspense, and dramatic setpieces, without ever losing sight of the human element. Crowe also plays the lead, Joshua Connor, an Australian farmer whose three sons joined the war effort in 1915 and went missing. Four years have gone by since they enlisted. The uncertainty of their exact fate proves more painful to Connor and his wife Lizzie (Jacqueline McKenzie) than just a straightforward telegram informing them their sons have died. Lizzie is distraught that her sons will never come home; before taking her own life, she tells Joshua to bring them back to be buried on “consecrated ground.” The film is permeated with religious symbolism, the title refers to Joshua’s profession as a person who has the mysterious power of being able to locate things that are hidden. That power will be put to the test in Turkey, four years after the Gallipoli campaign, when Joshua attempts to fulfill his wife’s last request and discover what happened to their sons. The spirituality and Christian overtones are laid over the film lightly, providing just enough of an otherworldly, allegorical quality to elevate the story. Joshua encounters the predictable roadblocks of government bureaucracy and semi-concealed disdain for Australians that many British officials felt; but the religious imagery, beautifully rendered by cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, lifts The Water Diviner to a plane far above Joshua’s run-ins with authority. The shots of desert landscapes evoke both director David Lean and stories of the Old Testament. Having recently played Noah on the big screen, it’s not hard to accept Crowe in the role of another hard-headed man of faith and few words. But it’s Crowe’s directorial skill that surprises. Expertly using flashbacks to illustrate the wartime carnage that occurred in the places where Joshua now searches for his children, Crowe shows us that we’re in a world where past and present have merged. And indeed, the bloodshed of the past is not over for 1919 Turkey, which has entered its own war with Greece, and makes Joshua’s task even more dangerous. What’s also remarkable is Crowe’s sympathy for the Turks; that his film would be a respectful tribute to the ANZACS is no surprise, but The Water Diviner is unusual in that it deals with the impact of WWI on the Turkish people. Even the 1981 classic Gallipoli, great as it was, didn’t extend its empathy beyond the Australian soldier and his tragic situation. The Water Diviner is a war film but also deals with reconciliation (appropriate to a movie with Christian undertones).  Reconciliation is most overtly examined in the relationship between Joshua and a recently-widowed Turkish woman named Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko): there are tentative steps toward a shyly fumbling but charming romance, which suggests that different cultures can find common ground and that Joshua might find a way of rebuilding his own life in this new country.  Another important relationship is forged between Joshua and Major Hasan (Yilmaz Erdoğan in a charismatic performance), a Turkish army officer sympathetic to the foreigner’s plight.  Their camaraderie has a natural, unforced affection. So, too, does the relationship between Joshua and Ayshe’s young son (Dylan Georgiades), who reawakens the stoic, emotionally-shellshocked Joshua’s paternal instincts. Crowe’s rapport with the supporting cast is so good, in fact, that it reminds viewers just how much chemistry Crowe could muster with other actors on his level, and how little that ability has been used lately. Offscreen, Crowe is known as a rather prickly fellow, but when he has the right material, he can play the most likeable, magnetic characters in cinema.  Crowe makes Joshua a sympathetic but sentimentalized figure, a fellow who can’t articulate his feelings that well but has deep-rooted principles that we respect and admire. His journey develops from a simple, straightforward search to locate his sons into a journey of discovery: about the nature of the war he naïvely allowed his idealistic sons to enter, about the hatred and blood-lust that still infest the world, and about himself, and what he’s really trying to prove by using his divining skills to find the truth about his sons’ fate. The Water Diviner, with an ambitious, exciting script by Andrew Anastasios and Andrew Knight, takes a simple premise and weaves a complex story of shifting alliances, forgiveness, remembrance, and redemption, that has the stark beauty of a Biblical parable but plenty of political and philosophical nuance, an appropriate tribute for every nation’s Memorial Day, that most complicated of holidays, in which we praise the courage of the men and women who fought for their country, contemplate the pain that war has brought, and envision a future in which such sacrifices never have to be made again. Brutal in its depiction of war, yet tender in its reverence for gentler human feeling, The Water Diviner is a sincere, powerful depiction of the emotional effects of war and the bravery of the survivors as well as the departed.

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