At war

"Restrepo" by
Tim Hetherington, Sebastian Junger

A few quotes from the makers:

On the best advice for a documentary filmmaker: “Do not, under and circumstances, cede editorial control of the film to anyone else.” They did not and financed the shoot themselves.

On not including close up graphic shots in the film (despite having filmed them): “It’s better to watch death from a distance. It forces the viewer to be more engaged. A shocking close up disconnects”.

Tim says that the camera became his gun giving him a way to control the experience (“the camera was my gun. (...) Because of it I was not afraid.”)

Indeed, the immediacy of this film is shocking from the moment it becomes clear that the filmmakers are right in the middle of combat and their obsession with covering the scene at times stays ahead of their safety, while the soldiers main objectives is kill the enemy without getting killed.

So, what does it take to provide the viewer with an emotional experience of the events filmed? Clearly being close to the subject of the storytelling, becoming one of its participants and acquiring their perspective helps. But there is more: a balance of restrain and immediacy is needed as well. It seems that to the makers of Restrepo withdrawing certain elements of the subject matter (not creating a narrative porn with showing everything in full detail, and I do not mean only the physical stuff) makes space for the viewer to experience that which the heros themselves struggle with.

The filmmakers select their canvas and style by sticking to the filmed unit, by avoiding an attempt to give the “bigger picture”, by limiting their ways of handling traumatic moments, by carefully entering (or not entering) the psyche of their heros. The combination of these decisions is very powerful.

The audience together with the characters on screen does not fully comprehend or is able to fully process the experience. And, contrary to the intuitive urge to show more, this controlled discrepancy between the limited narrative approach and obviously full filmmaking access to the surface of events creates an emotional, gut wrenching feeling of being in the middle of things. Because being in the middle excludes full control and understanding.



"Exit through the gift shop", directed by Banksy.

This extraordinary film (among its many other virtues and accomplishments) is a metaphor and a warning to filmmakers: do not attempt to compete with the real life you film. When you do you most likely will become pompous and ridiculous. Know your place!

On the other hand if you choose to switch places and become “the theme” yourself, you may become rich as did Mr. Brainwash. Actually, the warning seems rather a saddening reflection on human nature - as we know from even a casual glance around many a time those on top (in many fields - not only art) are there mostly because they want to be there more than the others, not because of their superior merit. All thanks to the quill-ability of the brainwashed public who doesn’t know shit from Shinola and doesn’t want to strain too much for understanding and self-examining, which as we all know is painful, time consuming and simply damn hard. This biting undertone is very Banksy-ish.

The film is also a very successful exploration of tensions between the narrative as such and its subject. The self-awareness of the filming tool (and I do not mean Mr. Brainwash or his earlier incarnation Mr. Guetta, but the meta narrator calling himself Banksy) allows the narrative to be actually split into two parallel plots: in the first we watch the unfolding of “the real” story of Thierry Guetta, in the second we glimpse into the intentions of Banksy as a storyteller, commentator and our guide to the strange world of his field. Banksy’s choices to come in and out of the film, to switch its path by pushing Guetta to become an artist himself, to frame everything in a strong, focused, first person narrative create a powerful sense of not only intense looking at the portrayed world but also at the tool he uses to portray it with.

It is an insightful look into a pitiful state of ourselves as a consumer culture. Done with sadness, empathy, love and a sense of humor. Bravo.


The quotes

“Each photo violates its subject”

“To speak is not to see”

“Unless you know your own story you do not exist”

“Get rid of your defenses so you can go the furthest”

“What you do for the least important person, you do for me”

“An anecdote cannot embrace reality”

“Movies are not character, but question driven”