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The Marines of Echo Company
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington's year dug in with the Second Platoon in one of Afghanistan's most strategically crucial valleys reveals extraordinary insight into the surreal combination of back breaking labor, deadly firefights, and camaraderie as the soldiers painfully push back the Taliban. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
"The horror! The horror! " Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
CNN describes Afghanistan's Korangal Valley as "the most dangerous place in the world." After seeing the powerful documentary Restrepo, I can understand the description, and I can admire an almost new dimension to that type of film: objectivity.
An American company of soldiers spent 15 months in that valley with filmmakers Tom Hetherington and Sebastian Junger recording the soldiers' combat and more importantly their personal reactions. For indeed Restrepo is about soldiers fighting an enemy they can't see, a boredom they can't leave behind, and friendships they will keep forever, depending on how long forever can be in such a hostile environment.
The singular feature of this Oscar-winning film is its attempt to make no judgment about the appropriateness of the war; it just chronicles the lives of young men stretched by fate to an endurance few of us could even imagine. Not that it's all that bloody or manic; it's just that the terror of an enemy hidden by mountains hangs about like a fog to such an extent that when they do kill one far away in the foothills, they rejoice as if they had wiped out a platoon. When the tired soldiers dance to "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)" by Gunther and Samantha Fox, they celebrate life, not killing.
Back to that objectivity: Even a documentary marries fiction when directors choose some images over others. In Restrepo the choices lead me to question how the US could ever win this war, not because that's the directors' statement but because the successes are limited to building a stronghold, Restrepo (named after a fallen comrade), at the top of a mountain among mountains that dare the most powerful army in history to try to win this one when none has ever been won here. Indeed, the army has subsequently withdrawn.
While the fictional Hurt Locker minimized its bloodshed in favor of the representational, Restrepo takes no liberties but goes for the real, which in this case is like waiting around a movie set for something to happen. And when it does, it can win an Academy Award.
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