Monday, May 19, 2008

An Appointment In Samara

Directed by Brian De Palma
Redaction in literature means "edit" or editing together several sources into one. The military use alot of "objective" words like this, as war euphamisms. Rendition can mean for instance "kidnap and torture", and I'm sure were all familiar with "friendly fire". All of the material in this film looks as if it was found on the internet, because supposedly director Brian De Palma("Scarface", "The Untouchables") found out about this story through the internet; blogs, youtube postings, arab, and american sites.

The story if you havent heard is about a unit of American soldiers stationed at a checkpoint in the Iraq town of Samara. There checkpoint is a tense, deadly, paranoid place, where anyone and everyone could be a potential enemy. After an accidental shooting of a pregnant women a series of bloody reprisals start between civilians and soldiers which leads to 4 American soldiers raping a 15 year old Iraqi girl, executing her family, and setingt her house on fire(based on true events). It's also the second film De Palma has made about US. soldiers in a foreign occupied country raping and killing a young girl, and one soldier deciding not to participate in his Vietnam film "Casualities Of War" . In Redacted 3 out of 4 soldiers remain to see what happens, one of them with a camera, observes, and eventually flees when the rape actually begins. He is implicit, however by his passive observation, (an accusation which De Palma aims to make at we the gentle viewers back home).
An early seen setting the stage, is a recitation of John O Hara's "An Appointment In Samara"( in Redacted all media converge), "There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said: "Master, just now when I was in the market place I was jostled by a woman in the 'crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me." The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market place and he saw Death standing in the crowd and he went to Death and said: "Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?" "That was not a threatening gesture," Death said, "It was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
I don't think the redundancy of watching the same true life event play out again and again in your own lifetime is lost on De Palma, the difference is that now anyone can view what's happening.
From the computer where I sit, I can watch vidoes of bombs bieng planted for US soldiers, beheadings, arab tv cameras interogating greiving families and dying citizens. If I really wanted to I could bring up a gallery of atrocities, but we don't because what would be the point, what are "we" gonna get out of it?
I don't think De Palma is attempting to demonize the US military, but emphasize that as history shows, men with guns under tremendous stress can and will do horrible things, and if they are going to be put into this kind of wild situation...well, why? There are no diatribes about leaving Iraq, or reasons why the war is important, from a soldiers point of view these are irrelevant anyway, you follow orders as best you possibly can and that's that. But before the end of the film, the question of "why" it does manage to rear it's head.
The performances which everyone keeps commenting on as bieng so bad, we'll I think Roger Ebert made the best case for them, "The acting is curious. Some of it is convincing, and some of the rest is convincing in a different way: It convinces us that non-actors know they are being filmed and are acting and speaking slightly differently than they otherwise would. That makes some try to appear nicer, and other try to appear tougher or more menacing. That edge of inauthentic performance paradoxically increases the effect: Moments seem more real because they are not acted flawlessly." Anyone whose ever been under camera understands this anxiety and artifice. That being said this is not an enjoyable film, I can appreciate it, but I did not enjoy it. We often go into war films, as this one points out, expecting action, justice, catharsis, excitement, and what Redacted gives us is tension, suffering, revenge, and confusion shot through prism bothe global and immediate. There is no "beauty" in this film, because theres nothing beautiful about this particular situation, nothing redeeming, because we so want redpemption, we want to be told everything will be alright, worth it, just, and it may not be. This is not a film about why the war is bad, it just shows us one case of "horror" that has happened before and will happen again, and asks if this thing is going to happen, "why?". Two questions that American media has stoped asking itself, since exit and entrance stategy are no longer options relavent to debate.
It's heavy handed, and unabashed, which is definitely it's biggest weakness, but then again real people in real sitations react and talk about things in direct ways. Stories can be subtle, real life does not have to be, it can be messy, and obnoxious, and, yes, unpleasant. Redacted is story, innuendo, rumor, and report all compiled together into a kind of "info-tainment"(a word I hear more and more used to describe nightly news programs), where the lines between fact and fiction, and commercial lose their distinctive borders. Whether using mass media techniques to critique mass media culture is ultimately effictive, is another discussion, but the point is made non too subtly here, that the information we receive through the proper channels, has a wide discrepency between the information we can find(via internet) if only we take initiative.

Not a fun night at the movies, but a complex, and thought/argument provoking, emotionally draining film(the repetitve music as the soldiers stand at the checkpoint suggests at once immense heat, tension, and boredom, all ready to boil over at the same time).

Most war films are records, or hero/action myths wearing war clothes, some yes manage to be beautiful, profound, even endearing. Redacted is none of those things, it is an accusation, a question, it's the elephant in the room that everyone ignores bieng shot from multiple angels at mutiple lenses. Not perfect, but impressive, and challanging in a time where alot of questions arent bieng asked anymore, and certainly not in ways that can be made emotionally compelling to the average person. Basically it's for better and certainly the vulgar worse, it's the Borat of anti-war films.

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