I was fortunate enough to attend the Australian premiere of Restrepo during Canberra’s recent International Film Festival. The Festival, a 12-day celebration of film, showcased an exceptional selection of feature films and documentaries from around the world plus the best Australian new releases and retrospectives.
Restrepo is a feature-length documentary that chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, “Restrepo,” named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. Produced, directed and filmed by journalists Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington, the film is entirely experiential: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. The only goal is to make viewers feel as if they have just been through a 90-minute deployment. Like a lot of people, my perceptions of war have been flavoured by popular film, Platoon, Black Hawk Down, Jarhead and, more recently, The Hurt Locker. Restrepo isn’t a movie – it’s life as soldiers know it – filled with bravery, fear, camaraderie and sacrifice. This is war, full stop. Junger and Hetherington leave the conclusions up to the viewer. It is an intense, gritty, harrowing documentary. One of the most unforgettable scenes I’ve watched on film in 2010 is the impromptu display of battlefield camaraderie as the soldiers in Restrepo dance cathartically (and hilariously) to Gunther and Samantha Fox’s Touch Me (I Want Your Body) – just days after having taken more casualties than any other mission of their campaign. Restrepo is apolitical, however, the viewer’s experience of the war becomes shaped almost exclusively by the collective emotional and physical experiences of the men themselves. Restrepo is a documentary about war, and by extension, it is a documentary about the human spirit.