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Gallipoli

Year: 1981
Director: Peter Weir
Writer: David Williamson
Cast: Mark Lee, Mel Gibson, Bill Hunter, Robert Grubb, David Argue
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The defining moment in Australian war films (as small a genre that it is), and amid entertainment that casually depicts the violent deaths of thousands of people with abject glee, it perfectly captures the tragedy and historical resonance of the events.

Archie (Lee) and Frank (Gibson) meet in Western Australia at a regional running race, a career Archie is being primed for by his caring but ambitious uncle.

But Archie has another agenda; Allied propaganda has sunk in and he intends to sign up for the light horse infantry and be shipped to Europe. Frank has no intention of going and getting himself killed but goes along together with some other friends from his work gang (including David Argue and an impossibly young Robert Grubb).

Once in Egypt, they go through the expected soldier's rite of passage, whoring round Cairo and enjoying themselves until they're called up. Life in their camp exudes a sort of monotony of horror, shells going off around them as they go about the business of eating, sleeping and soldiering.

The leadup to the tragedy is given life and breath in Frank, Archy and their friends' fear as they see more and more action, and when the infamous storming of the Turkish trenches happens, you feel yourself right there with them.

Launched as a distraction from the British landing further on, wave after wave of young men climbed out of their trench to try and reach the Turkish machine gun batteries and almost every single one was cut in half before they'd even started running.

Made even more tragic is the hair's breadth timing that sends Archy - and even more of Franks mates - to certain death. As a communications runner, Frank has been sent by Major Barton (Hunter) back to base camp to tell the General to call it off. The General agrees that it should be 'reconsidered', and Frank runs for his friends' lives back to the trenches to stop the last wave before the whistle goes - which he hears from just over the hill.

The last few frames are of Archie running across the sand - like he did back home when he was training for athletics with his uncle - except that this time the clatter of an automatic gun position splits the air and he dies mid-run as the picture freezes.

It's almost certain that Weir and Williamson wanted to tell a story that aroused our emotions rather than make a documentary, but the fear and sense of hopelessness tell what must be the closest to the real story in the history of cinema, and certainly one of the most effective films on the futility of war.

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