Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Restrepo (Human Rights Watch Film Festival)

"Restrepo" is a brave film to make, not necessarily because it is "audacious" (as they would say in the film) but more because it is dangerous. Shot and "directed" by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, its purpose is to make you realize along with the soldiers that the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan is insane. At one point there is a base only hundreds of feet away from where the soldiers are stationed, but as one person puts it, "it may as well be in another country." Junger's book "War" describes this in print, but it takes on somewhat of a different feeling when it is transposed onto film. The film is a little low on actual combat footage, but to ask for more would be a little disheartening to Junger and Hetherington (who ironically actually lost the footage they did through smashing the camera into a wall).

As others have mentioned, this is supposed to be a documentary with no connections to politics or to reasons. We're supposed to have the time that the soldiers had. Of course, unless you've heard of it, you're going to be as naïve as the soldiers at the beginning going in, where they're drinking beers and being pretty much oblivious to what's really going to come ahead of them. When they see it, they are astonished. The audience finds this out through "one-on-one interviews" that have been conducted with individual soldiers. The film's power comes from these moments, when the soldiers describe (or fail to) the Korengal Valley to them. The images from here "bring it to life", but not nearly as much as when we see and hear these soldiers. This could have been edited into its own documentary, but of course the actual footage "puts you there", and that is important, because this film also shows to military wives the trials that their husbands went through (a purpose Junger has brought up).

The soldiers try to be gung-ho (shouting and swearing and wrestling), but really they have been shattered and torn apart by the experience. Their major accomplishment was to make a very risky (or "ballsy," as Cpt. John Kearney would say in the film) move forward by putting a fort right where their Taliban enemies had been situated and simultaneously fighting off fire and building it. The name of it was O.P. (Outpost) Restrepo, as "Doc" Restrepo was an important figure in their platoon and he was killed. The fort was somewhat messy and "shitty", and a soldier Pemble says, with no irony, it is "just like the person [Restrepo] was." But still, with his guitar-playing and humor and everything, he created a persona big enough to be dearly missed when it was shot down.

The film has the same feeling in parts as other war documentaries, with the fraternal, jokey feeling in the middle of "chaos." It's not exactly revelatory, and, as Variety critic John Anderson noted, it's hard-to-follow. In its editing, it's a little heavy-handed, but I guess that's not a huge problem. When the camera is on the guys talking, it seems staged, but it is not in fact; it's just showing those nervous with the camera on them. The sound is not always very good. Despite these things, it's atmospheric and traumatic, a film that is somewhat worth seeing. B

I'm not exactly sure, but perhaps the fact that I had about 10 hours of sleep over the two nights before I saw this film made somewhat of a difference in my perception.


S M Rana said...

You have made a case for watching the film.

Stephanie said...

This sounds like a powerful movie, and you wrote a magnificent review. Though I rarely watch war movies, I will be looking for this one.