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Thursday, 21 October 2010

RESTREPO - real war

"Their experiences are important to understand, regardless of one's political beliefs. Beliefs are a way to avoid reality. This is reality" (Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington)

Restrepo is a documentary by photographer Tim Hetherington and writer Sebastian Junger. The film follows a platoon of US troops deployed to Korengal Valley in Afghanistan. They were there for over a year in one of the deadliest war zones in the world. Dug in deep and fighting close contact with the Taliban.

Restrepo is without a doubt an incredibly visceral and intense experience and is unusual for a feature length documentary due it's frankness and simplicity of style. The portrayal of the troops and their experiences are honest and delivered without any preconceived narrative or political ideology. The simplicity of the films tag line 'one platoon, one valley, one year' holds true.

This is partly what makes Restrepo stand out as war doesn't try to explain any back story, project any repercussions, or even show another side to what's being shown, The film makers have followed through with their mission statement and delivered the 'real thing'.

Perhaps this is why it such a difficult film to write about. There is almost little to comment or criticize about it, because the film goes against what a lot of contemporary documentaries try to do...Restrepo is not trying to swing the viewer in any political or ideological way. It's straight up documentary about people fighting in war us at home are all to quick to forget about and ignore.

On the Restrepo website it states: 'This is war, full stop. The Conclusions are up to you.'

Well...I'm struggling to write some kind of 'review' of this film, but having watched are my conclusions...

As a film, it is unique and engaging and forces the viewer to experience the concept of modern war from the unique position of the soldiers, the people living with the reality of the war. The film does this and stands out as a piece contemporary film making in a time when there so much spin and propaganda in this subject matter. The events the men go through are as in engaging as anything a script writer could come up with. We genuinely see the brutal action and fighting they go through, the frustration of their situation, the boredom of being stuck on a hillside for months on end and the inevitable crude comedy and genuine outpouring of emotion that will come from fifteen men alone in a foreign war zone. Half way through the film I found myself forgetting where they were and what context of the film was, I was too invested with the 'characters' and what they were directly going through at that moment. In this respect the film truly achieved it's goal...I had disregarded my beliefs for a short while and was in the reality.

However, I can't help but feel that this project would have worked better as series of shorter installments. One year is long time, to condense it to 90 mins is I feel asking too much for the story and of the audience to effectively process the information. Perhaps a mini-series of hour long episodes would have served the story better as I couldn't help but feel that there was a lot more going on than what was shown on screen. (I'm sure Sebastian Junger's book 'War' goes into more detail however.)

Despite the film makers intensions to depict the reality of the events, the viewers beliefs and politics are tugged at here. By the end of the film I couldn't help but be left with a bitter taste in my mouth as I wondered 'What the hell were actually doing there and what did they achieve?'

Unfortunately, these haunting questions may have left more an in-print on me than the reality of these soldiers experience. This perhaps is a triumph of the film. By taking the viewer on a reality trip through an experience and showing more directly and first hand what is going on in this world. It is easy to hold an opinion on the rights or wrongs of war, even if you no little about the reasons for or against it. But this film (whether it wants to do this or not) strongly reaffirmed my view that most of the foreign policy regarding the war in Afghanistan is as pointlessly bizarre as anything that happened in Vietnam.

Restrepo will hopefully continue a conversation that needs to be had regarding the wars we (as countries) send ourselves on. Perhaps by not getting bogged down by any political and emotional ideology, Restrepo has demonstrated more effectively and sincerely that these wars and the driving force behind them need to be re-thought and addressed in a dramatically and in a REALISTIC manner.

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