25 April Film Review: Stuff of Manhood
April 25th is a public holiday and a day of remembrance in New Zealand, and the day marks a defining turn in the nation's history.
During the flawed Gallipoli campaign in the Turkish peninsula, New Zealanders fought, along with Australians and British against the Turks (a German ally in WWI) and lost with heavy casualties.
While Peter Weir's Gallipoli (1980) presented a fictionalized but strong account of the Australian participation, 25 April by Leanne Pooley (who co-writes the script along with Tim Woodhouse) and producer Matthew Metcalfe, aims to present a documentarian-like approach to the event by the New Zelanders. It enlists Flux Animation studios, and a variety of techniques (motion capture, 3D and 2D computer animation) to address the stories of 6 people (5 soldiers and a nurse) who fought in the campaign, making it New Zealand's first animated feature.
A chronicled narration (from the 25 April arrival to the December withdrawal from Gallipoli) and talking heads give 25 April a sense of documentary animation, which is heavily indebted to its sources. Animation here does not seem to have a life of its own, but helps to illustrate the garish visuals that people not present could have only imagined otherwise.
Characters are wrinkled but (unlike Cafard, another recent effort in WWI catastrophe) here are presented dignified and heroic. The whole film unapologetically presents the event as a dignified moment for a nation; for its whole duration, it is New Zealand and its national heroism that matters -making the depiction of Ottoman Turks in the film (unnamed, bald) rather problematic.
This central concept makes it hard to emphathize with all the different characters in the film, who essentially narrate the same story in various guises. Characters' expectations, their home concerns elude us, making 25 April more a child of the here and now of the catastrophe.
Art direction (by Colin Wilson) serves as a blueprint of what a hellish atmosphere might look like on animation, but the animation result is less convincing. At times, backgrounds and characters seem to operate in a different arena altogether; the overuse of the red color in all its bloody transformations weakens the final result.
Apart from a single bathing scene (which owes a lot to Peter Weir's film), 25 April does not allow you to watch the ordinary day life of the soldiers in the Turkish battlefield. It insists on telling and guiding spectators through words and visuals, from bird's eye view shots to extreme close-ups to a carefully constructed hell.
Lighting and shadows contribute much to the film's message of dignified battle, but stronger characters and longer takes here could really capture the vast amount of 12,000 casualties and nation disaster.
25 April is informative and has a clear function to accomplish. In the independent feature film arena, it's miles ahead in its theme from US studio animation stuff, and is one of those efforts that begets promising material.
Still, the stuff of what manhood is made from (and its terrible consequences) needs more ingredients to come into the surface.
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