Saturday, May 29, 2010

Untangling the meaning of "Restrepo"

It's tough to do justice to the documentary I saw at SIFF last night - "Restrepo".  Not because it was great or awful - it was neither of those things.  In fact, my rating is a somewhat uneasy B.  Coupled with a strong recommendation that you see it when it comes out in an art-house sized release this July.  I'm more flummoxed by what this documentary could have been.  And maybe should have been.  As it is, I think this movie will appeal to two margins - the strongly anti-war and the proudly pro-soldier.  Some people surely can belong to both margins.  My point is that a vast middle won't find what they're looking for in this documentary.

For the nugget of backgound, Sebastian Junger (who also wrote the book "War" based on this experience) and Tim Hetherington spent big chunks of time embedded with the US Army in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.  This movie is a straight up cinema verite` experience - digital video shot while in combat and just plain dickin' around with the soldiers in their precarious base of operations there.  With some post-action interviews shot on the American base in Italy weaved in to provide the narrative skeleton.  In the action footage, you see all the junk included - dirty camera lenses, manic shooting while running around looking for safety amidst the din of activity, lots of far-from-eloquent profanity splattering off the walls in the heat of action or the cold boredom of inaction.  You see some poignancy in the reactions to lives lost (this was the deadliest area in all of Afghanistan for American forces).  But I found myself teetering on the edge of my seat waiting for...something else.  Something like a moral.  Maybe the point is that one wouldn't be, shouldn't be delivered by these men.  They're meant to out there, doing the job and not asking the larger questions.  But isn't that why we have combat journalists?  If they don't ask those questions or disseminate at least the framework for judgment given the context, isn't it all just a bunch of tough guy posturing?  There is no answer to that.  And maybe I'm a cliche` - someone looking for a kernel of answer to a question that no one can pose.  But I think that question is out there.  War?  What is it good for.

"Restrepo" (named for one of the Privates killed in action and the subsequent name of the forward base of operations in "The Kop") is important.  I'm just not yet sure why.  Maybe it's a karmic pairing in my mind with Memorial Day weekend.  And the concern that a vast middle of the American population doesn't even know why they've got Monday off.  If you're in Seattle, there's another showing today (3:45 @ Harvard Exit).  Definitely worth a viewing and the conversation that will result afterward.


Anonymous said...

Great film. I agree with you that the whole concept of war, "what are we doing over there?" question was not touched upon at all, but I think how the directors focus on the 'human side' of war should transcend anyone's "pro/anti war" beliefs. Restrepo shows the true grit, the trauma that these people, on both sides, have to go through. By doing this, I think that Junger and Hetherington doing something that is nesscessary for us to take a stance on war, which is showing us "war" completley unfiltered, and letting us decide for ourselves. In my opinion, this film's the visuals alone do enough to add fuel to my beliefs: that war is hell.

kerry said...

April 25,2011. NatGeo Channel. I couldn't agree more with the uneasy-B rating. 15 minutes into the program, My husband came in and asked if the documentary was good before sitting down to watch; that was exactly the word I used -uneasy.
I am a most loyally a member of the pro-soldier camp, however I found myself tettering on the brink of exclaiming,'blow 'em off the map' and having vehament anti-war thoughts. While the film did not touch upon the concept of war and ,"what are we doing over there?" I sure was thinking that a lot while watching. The entire experience of viewing the documentary leaves me uneasy and unsettled with many thoughts and personal feeling to process. I have always admired the bravery and courage of our national volunteers, this film envokes in me a respect for which is so great that I am unable to describe it in words. As anonymous left it, "war is hell."