Movie comment: De Palma's 'Redacted' or our forced labyrinthic way to Truth

Last Saturday, we went to see 'Redacted' at the theater. My husband and I have been expecting the movie since it made headlines and controversy after the Venice film festival. We dragged our reluctant nearly 18 year old with us. 'This is your chance to see how our governments treat, or mistreat, the Truth', we told him. He complied.

'Redacted' is the story of the rape and the killing of a 15 year old Iraqi girl and her family by two US soldiers stationed in Iraq. The story "is based on the gang rape, murder and burning of 14-year-old Iraqi girl, Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi, by US soldiers in March 2006. The soldiers also killed her parents and younger sister. Redacted means edited or revised to make suitable for publication - De Palma's point is that the authorities have not allowed us to see what we have done to the people of Iraq. Access has been limited, images have been censored, and the few that have been seen have often contradicted the official version of events. De Palma was determined to tell a story that showed the full horror of the Iraq war."

It is constructed from real material; videos and video surveillance cameras inside military camps, blogs, soldiers' testimonies, TV footage, unavailable to the public through mainstream media. The story is set in the larger context of the war in Iraq and De Palma shows us the reality of life in and around a US checkpoint, where many Iraqi civilians were killed. The movie could have been a documentary except that, De Palma, for legal reasons, wasn't able to use the real material and he had to fictionalise the story relying on actors and a carefully scripted scenario. This is a very convoluted, labyrinthic, way to reality. The reality of the Iraq war is heavily redacted on our screens and in our newspapers, and De Plama restores to us this reality through fiction. He also uses video footage as to give the impression of a documentary.

The docu-movie starts with scenes of the soldiers shot by one of their own, Angel Salazar, who intends to use the material from his videos to get into film school after his service. The docu-movie then moves to the checkpoint and what goes around. These are precious scenes. We hear a lot about checkpoints but how many of us know actually what is really a US checkpoint in Iraq ? De Palma uses an intermediary to explain a checkpoint, a real-fake French documentary in which the slow voice and the images are very didactic. We watch the boredom and the anxiety of US soldiers who guard the checkpoint and we follow the itinerary of ordinary Iraqis driving through the checkpoint. We also watch a sample of what actually can happen at a checkpoint, suicide bombing, and civilian killings as they rush to the hospital. The whole thing is a mess. And the only question that emerges from this is : 'Why on earth, an army of occupation does need checkpoints ? They are not in Iraq to fight a civil war. usually you need a checkpoint to separate communities, not to occupy a country'. It was my husband's question at the end, and I must admit for the person who I am, who lived and survived a civil war in Lebanon, that my husband's question was very relevant. Checkpoints aren't of any use in Iraq, they don't fit the official US narrative of this war and we don't know actually what purpose they serve. They incite defiance and provoke tragic misunderstandings and lost translations, like when a car rushes to transport a pregant woman to the hospital and they signal it to the soldiers, but in the middle of culturally different gestures and signs the message is lost on both sides and the pregnant woman is killed. Checkpoints are also a useful target for suicide bombers.

At checkpoints we see male soldiers strip search Iraqi schoolgirls by running their hands on their bodies. This is yet another attempt at humiliating Iraqis. I live and travel in western countries and this kind of serach on women in western countries is performed by female security agents. Why should we submit Iraqi girls to this humiliation ? If the US really wanted to win hearts and minds in Iraq then it would at least pay attention to such details. Because it is during one of these repetitive routines that a porn obsessed soldier got to land his envy on an Iraqi schoolgirl whom he is going to rape and assasinate with her whole family later on.

We also see an embedded journalist at work during a night raid to search for insurgents in an Iraqi house, void of insurgents and weapons. We see US soldiers seize documents in Arabic, even though they don't understand a word. They will check them with the translator later they say, but before that they have to determine, without the translator, what is suspicious and incriminating evidence in a language they don't understand. The house searched is that of the girl who would be raped later, but not before her father was arrested and put in prison.

We see how the Iraqi insurgency operates, with caméra fitted computers and surveillance of US soldiers' posts and checkpoints. It is after a bomb explodes and kills the officer of the group that the raid on the house is conducted as a retaliation.

We also got to see and hear from the soldiers as they are interacting and discussing their job or as they are communicating with their families. Beside salazar, who seems detached, as if outside the conflict, only preoccupied with his videos, two of the five main characters have no illusion whatsoever about their mission, they want to serve their time and go back to their families. While the two others, those who raped the girl and killed her family are clearly your type of gang street criminal and psychotic perverse killer, in real life and on duty. They are racists, they call Iraqis 'sandniggers', they don't consider them as humans. The entire story is built on the tension that will accumulate throughout the docu-movie between the soldiers. Eventually, Soldier McCoy, who was becoming upset with what he witnessed from his comrades, will denounce them to the military police. It takes some courage to do it as we see that the army is not pleased to hear or to be forced to investigate such matters.

Most of the events presented to us by De Palma are recorded by soldier Salazar, even the rape of the shoolgirl and the killing of her family. Salazar will be the one who will pay for the rape of the Iraqi girl and the killing of her family. We watch his beheading by the insurgency on a webvideo nearly unredacted.

After we watched the movie I surprised myself asking loudly the question to the people around me: 'What the hell the US is doing in Iraq ?'. If there is one thing this docu-movie shows, it is both the savagery unleashed by this war on both sides, and the moral dilemma that is absent from the official rendition of this war in our society and our government compliant media.

Contrary to O'reilly, who declared on Fox News a mini-war on the film producers for putting US soldiers' lives in danger, it is the US government who is putting US soldiers' lives and souls in danger for no clear objective. Most soldiers aren't stupid, they clearly show great uneasiness about the fogginess of the purpose of their mission in Iraq and it is this, with the physical danger and the stress of extended duties that is killing them. I even thought that De Palma was being sympathetic to the soldiers. You have some great Characters portrayed through the story. Mc Coy is definitely De Palma's inner voice and conscience.

De Palma is an angry man and he is right about his anger and he is right to express it in such a smart way and to communicate it to us and make us feel how it feels like to be a US soldier in Iraq. De Palma's docu-movie will make history. It will be the reference movie on Iraq, years from now.

Any blogger reading this account and agreeing with it is asked to put one of the two promotional videos of 'Redacted' on his blog, for the sake of Truth. The movie website redactedmovie.com has a toolkit for bloggers. The movie is also a homage to the blogosphere for its role in digging the truth.

Introductory statement from de Palma about 'Redacted'
Interview of De Palma in Salon

UPDATE: March 8, 2008. Simon Hattenstone on the Iraq war movies, in The Guardian. An interview with an angry De Palma is featured in the article.


Gert said...

Hi Sophia,

Yupper, I'd like to see this movie, especially after witnessing Bill O'Liely and his sidekick Horn Shammity declare war on freedom of speech by trying to slander the movie and tell every goddamn Fixed Noise addict that it's unamerican to go and see it. Bill-O, Joe McCarthy thanks you!

I will put up the trailer in a couple of days, after my Annapolis posts have received some vile comments from the usual suspects.

Sophia said...

Thanks Gert. I don't feel courageous enough to cover this farce that is Annapolis. I will read your coverage.

annie said...

Je suis un peu stuck car mon blog est en français, mais je mettrai la bande annonce même si elle est en anglais.
merci Sophia, comme toujours tu es très relevant.

annie said...

Voilà, j'ai mis un renvoi et la bande annonce, mais c'est tout petit.

Sophia said...

Merci chère Annie.

Gert said...

Oh, Annapolis... there's not much to cover there. The only thing noteworthy is Olmert's admission of Palestinian suffering. That'll probably cost him his government. If not that, then definitely Jerusalem.

And without Palestinian unity, there can't be a solution either.

Since March 29th 2006