Wednesday, November 19th, 2014


‘Restropo’ was an extraordinary documentary which was the ultimate in cinema vérité and the work of two intrepid and fearless filmmakers who chose to live through a grueling 14-month tour of duty with a company of American solders in one of the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan. It won Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger a Best Documentary Oscar Nomination but in 2011 only days after the Awards Ceremony Hetherington was killed whilst covering the war in Libya.
This new movie follows up on the Restrepo story using footage that the filmmakers shot back in 2007 and 2008 when they were with the Battle Company of the 503rd Infantry Regiment who were stationed in the remote Korengal Valley (known as the Valley of Death).  This time there is less emphasis on the daily gun battles but more focus on how these very young men have turned themselves into professional soldiers operating in the most dangerous of conditions.

Watching these young combatants bond so closely together thousands of miles away from home and knowing that each day may be their last, is a very powerful and moving sight. Some of them who have already served several tours of duty remark that no relationship they have in their lives back home will ever be this close. Junger films them off-duty rough-horsing with each other or just letting them wax lyrically about being trigger happy with the favorite choice of guns, and its tough to remember that some of them are still teenagers. One soldier takes pride in showing where his helmet was once the struck by a sniper’s bullet, whilst another admits that he thinks it is always fun shooting people.

Junger takes pains to be completely unpolitical about the regions instability but the soldiers although willingly doing their duty to protect the valley’s inhabitants, make no attempt to disguise both their distrust and distaste that these same men, happy enough to take American aid, also conspire with the Taliban too.  


Just like in their first movie, the most riveting parts are the ‘de-briefing’ interviews that Junger and Hetherington filmed with the men in Italy as they were en-route home.  Away from the battlefield their emotions range the whole gamut from those of regret and fear to an inexplicable longing to go back to the Korengal to do yet another tour of duty.  In fact somewhere along the line a point is made that the soldiers who just do a single tour before leaving the Army are usually the ones that have great psychological problems and greater difficulty in adjusting to a normal civilian life, than the ones that go back several times. 

It was probably not Junger’s intention at all but the the overall message that one cannot help but take away from seeing ‘Korengal’ is the sheer futility of war in general, and this one in particular. However, lest we forget the ultimate risk that these men take, he includes footage of the memorial service of Juan Sebastián Restrepo one of the very first casualties and who this base is named after.

P.S. This exceptional movie will be the last of its kind that we can expect from Junger, as he revealed at the Screening I attended that since Hetherington’s untimely death, he has stopped covering wars.


Posted by queerguru  at  04:16

Genres:  documentary

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