Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Restrepo: An unflinching look at the Afghan war

I had a chance to see the documentary Restrepo today. It is about the current war in Afghanistan and it follows one US Battle Company for 15 months - from its deployment in 2007 to its leave - in the Korangal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Is it great film-making? Probably not. However, this provides a unflinching look at the Afghan war (and the war, in general) and I really liked it. It is made by war photographer Tim Hetherington and author Sebastian Junger - who followed the Company for 15-months. There are many fire-fights in the film, as this Company came under fire almost daily. But these fire-fights are real and not staged or acted. It is an haunting film. There is no real narrative arc (apart from the 15-month duty of the Company) nor is there a voice-over from the director. Instead, you only get to hear the voices of the soldiers.

There are many ways to talk about the film. But I will make only couple of points here: It is interesting that we (and the US soldiers) never see the enemy fighters. They do shoot at the targets, but apart from one instance, they don't see the individual they are shooting at. This is perhaps the nature of the modern war that even when you are face-to-face, you can't see the face of the enemy.

For me the most fascinating part of the film was the meeting of US soldiers with the local Shura of the elders. The elders were all very old - and the US soldiers were all very young. In fact, there is a whole lifetime written on the faces of the elders. Most elders had long beards, red with henna, and many of them with only a few teeth left in their mouths. These shura sessions in the film highlight the communication gap between the US troops and the local Afghans - and one of the reasons why the war has been going the way it has been going.

If you are interested in understanding the Afghan war (not necessarily the politics behind it), or if you want to see the impact of such conflicts on individuals, or if you want to have some idea of the tough terrain at the Afghan-Pakistan border, then check out Restrepo.

Here is the trailer of the film:


Tracy said...

I saw it last week and agree with your assessment. Very bleak. I thought the fact that there was no real narrative arc was symobolic of the lack of direction (or constantly changing direction) of the war in general. At the end, all I could say is: "what's the point?"

Salman Hameed said...

Yes, I think you are absolutely right about that - especially at the time of the filming (2007) - when the Iraq war was spiraling out of hand.

The Afghan war seems to be heading for a stalemate between the 21st century army with modern equipment and a 19th century army that knows the terrain (this is not meant as a compliment to either - but simply an observation). The geo-political situation is insanely complex over there - and perhaps that is the best we can hope for at present.

By the way, also check out this Slate article on Bob Woodward's new book.

Unknown said...

very true that what happens in the military!

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