Now for those of you who are not familiar with director Sinan Çetin, it’s high time you got acquainted with him. One of the richest director/producers in Turkey, Çetin was first renowned for his unique “Çiçek Abbas” (1982) and daring “Berlin in Berlin” (1993).
Along the way he made some other feature films, but it was his advertising career that got him to be a household name in Turkey. So much so that his long flirtation with cinema seemed like a hobby compared to his prolific and profitable endeavors in the advertising world. He made a lot of money; of course I don’t know if this fact is relevant at this point, but I do know that such a preposterous film such as “Çanakkale Çocukları” (The Children of Çanakkale) can only come from a helmer who is so ultimately and abundantly confident with his throne that he might believe that anything he does will be embraced by his people.
The Çetin dynasty is also part of the film: his wife, Rebekka Haas, portrays Australian dame Catherine, who is married to Ottoman high-ranking official Kasım Bey (Haluk Bilginer). The period is right before World War I, and Catherine, who has given up her nationality to become Ottoman, is the mother of two young teenage boys -- James (Cemo Çetin -- older son of the director) and Osman (Orfeo Çetin, the director’s younger son).
Right from the beginning of the film, we understand it’s going to be symbolism and reductionism galore, as we witness James, who has completely adopted his Australian identity and Osman who has adopted his Ottoman identity debating over politics and which language they should be speaking in a very black-and-white style, reading really bad -- I mean really bad -- dialogue that reminded me of a “Recep İvedik” rehash. Mother Catherine observes this debate in silence and is plastered with an unreadable expression. We soon realize that this sequence is in essence a forbearing dream of the woman, who sees horrific bloodshed as wounded soldiers from Gallipoli promenade among her laundry sheets in her garden to a melodramatic soundtrack that urges us to feel a larger-than-life sorrow. The only sorrow we feel during this cinematic extravaganza is the sorrow of being forced to empathize with the two-dimensional characters and also the guilt of not empathizing because indeed war is terrible. And the most important part: The mother foresees that her two sons, who choose to fight on opposite sides, will end up killing each other!
What does Catherine do? She forces patriotic hubby, Kasım, to go to the trenches of Çanakkale to find her younger son Osman. Kasım is not at all happy because he believes his younger son is rightly serving the country as a soldier. The trenches and the battlefield are full of dead and wounded soldiers. We find out that older brother James has joined the British army. All Catherine wants to do is find her two boys who are on the opposite sides of the trenches and instill her views of peace and tolerance to embittered soldiers. Will she find the boys? If she does, will she be able to prevent the two from the evil clutches of destiny?
This muddy and messy film in which the narrative takes on a pushy climax every 15 minutes is a didactic message from director Çetin that war ruins the lives of many people and that peace, tolerance and acceptance are the only ways for humanity to continue.
I think we already knew all that stuff and surely it’s not a bad thing to remind an audience of this belief, but really just a layer of subtlety would have sufficed and the message would have already gotten through. For this film is an incessant outburst of emotions, lectures, maudlin voiceovers and unsuccessful attempts to be profound and deep about human nature without realizing that these attempts only come out as condescending.
This film tries to honor the memory of all the innocent lives lost in Gallipoli on both sides, and in its own twisted way it sometimes does. But still this does not prevent “Çanakkale Çocukları” from being superfluous and falling into the trap of shedding crocodile tears despite its “good intentions.” Overall it is just not convincing.
One small note: The film’s producers cancelled the press screening and invited the press to watch the film at a gala at the shooting location, which is three hours away from İstanbul’s city center. This viewer could not attend the gala and instead watched the film on a Friday night matinée at an İstanbul theater, thinking that she would not be able to find a ticket. Yet it turned out that this critic was one of the three ticket holders in the cinema. The other two viewers left the screening after 20 minutes.
Directed by: Sinan Çetin
Genre: drama / history
Cast: Haluk Bilginer, Oktay Kaynarca, Yavuz Bingöl, Wilma Elles