Dave's Rating:

1.5

History written by the winners.

First-time director Russell Crowe has stepped in it, probably without meaning to. But it's happening all the same.

His film, entirely devoted to an exploration of the aftermath of a key, nation-defining battle in Australian war history -- the battle at Gallipoli, Turkey, in 1915 -- is being released on Friday, April 24. That date is significant because it is the day preceding the 100th anniversary of that World War I turning point (and in the U.S. films typically open on Fridays, so there you go). It's also significant because it is, to the very day, also the 100th anniversary of the start of the Armenian Genocide, an event that took place in Turkey in which over 1 million Armenians were exterminated by the Turkish government. More about that in a minute.

The Water Diviner stars Crowe as Joshua Connor, a farmer whose set of skills includes using divining rods to find underground well water. Four years after his three sons are killed at Gallipoli, and after his wife commits suicide out of grief, Connor heads to Istanbul to find the boys' bodies and bring them home.

What he finds along the way is a strange camaraderie with Turkish Nationalists, an adorable Turkish child with a sexy widowed mother (Olga Kurylenko, whose job here is to beam at Crowe as though he were the last real man for a hundred miles), a stint in a Turkish battle against Greece, and... visions.

It turns out Connor's not just a water diviner, he's also gifted with visitations by mystical flashes of imagery, a kind of supernatural GPS -- and those visions may lead him to his dead sons' whereabouts, as well as to the possibility that one of them may still be alive.

Grandiose in the way that beatific, heroism-minded, ego-driven star vehicles usually are, The Water Diviner is also sentimental and cozy, lit up with glowing, golden sunlight. Its main mission is comfort, a feel-good tribute to the long dead of a distant war, and it bows to its star and to the idea of family togetherness no matter the cost.

Well, here's that cost: glaring historical revisionism, the erasure of a horror that set the template for future 20th century genocides. It's difficult to believe that a film rooted in well-documented fact could be so unaware of the brutal slaughter that took place at the same time as its fictional action, nearly impossible, in fact. And though The Water Diviner isn't about Turkey's murder of a million Armenians, it goes into detail about other political and war-related realities of that moment, so ignorance seems a flimsy excuse. The genocide is simply left out of the discussion. Not one mention. Like it never happened.

By filming in Turkey, a country which still officially denies Armenians were ever targeted for slaughter, and where it is literally against the law to openly discuss the genocide, it's fairly clear that concessions were made to the host country. And now, to add insult, the film hits about 300 screens on the very date that slaughter began. That's a small number of screens for a film from a big studio, one directed by an acclaimed A-list actor. It's as though the answer to the question, "What were they thinking?" is being answered by the collective effort of dropping it quietly and backing away slowly.

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