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The main achievement of Restrepo as a documentary is its incredible proximity to the everyday life of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Fighting as in “fighting”, not “waiting, playing video games and jerking off”, as we know it from other films about soldiers in combat areas, where we learned that the worst part of a soldier’s life might not be engaging with an insurgent, but sitting around without apparent purpose for weeks at a time. Not so in the valley where Restrepo takes place. This is the front where US intervention troops meet whoever covers the border to Pakistan. Winning a battle means moving that border and pushing the insurgents back, losing it means allowing them a greater influence towards Kabul. In both cases people die, and the camera is with the platoons, gets shot at and ducks away, and incredibly enough has enough material at the end of the day to edit the fights to even show different camera angles (I can only assume, maybe hope, that there are some fake cuts, involving material from other battles).

It would be easy to assume that this kind of films sweeps the documentary Oscars (especially as it is well done in terms of handicraft). It did not, the aftermath of the economic turbulences swept “Inside Job” to the top spot. I have not seen that one, but I can imagine it was not only the spirit of the times, there is also something odd about “Restrepo”: you cannot learn anything from it. Imagining what life is like for a soldier who was sent to war in Afghanistan by his government will yield exactly these images. There is no morale to it, it does not help you answer the question whether you should or should not have sent them in the first place. In this sense, Restrepo is a bit like a Discovery Channel documentary (oh, well, it actually IS a National Geographic documentary…): one part of the wildlife is under the magnifying glass, and there is a brave and very patient camera crew to film it (apparently they spent one year at this godforsaken place). Then we watch it and after that?

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  1. […] About « Restrepo (Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger 2010) […]

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