One more film worth seeing:
The US soldier back from tour on Iraq sobs into his wife's shoulder as he tells how he is haunted by the rape and killing of a fifteen-year-old Iraqi woman by his fellow soldiers. All around him, his homecoming party calls out grotesquely for the celebration of this hero's return.
This is a modern-day indictment of the horrors of war and makes a mockery of any sense of heroism arising out of the Iraq war; it is also a film which powerfully condemns the censorship of the truth about the war.
The film cautions at the outset that this is a fictionalisation. It is, intentionally, sickening in its portrayal of the worst human rights abuses: women in the cinema audience cried during the scenes of the brutal rape of the Iraqi woman by two US soldiers. What is more sickening is its vivid portrayal of the impunity of the soldiers thanks to systematic censorship of the truth and collusion with lies at institutional levels: the guiltiest soldiers have final control of the video recorder and give themselves an ample amount of time to relate their version of events. In a coded story, they celebrate the execution of their colleague, Salazar, whose death is a final nail in the coffin of the truth as he was the least loyal to the fictionalised, and official, truth which was designed to cover up the rape and killing.
Filmed on location in Amman, Jordan, where thousands of Iraqis continue to flee to seek refuge, the film is terribly foreboding in its portrayal of the consequences for anyone who seeks to tell the truth about the gross abuses and war crimes of the soldiers.
Salazar, the soldier who is recording all that he sees with a camera for later exposure, is without support and is captured and beheaded by Iraqis. He has perhaps foreseen his own death and the film leaves the audience to conclude that it came about because of the failure of his fellow soldier to protect him on patrol. To these racists, who call the Iraqis 'sand niggers', he is a 'commie' and a 'latino', and they show as little remorse over his death as they do over the killing of a pregnant Iraqi woman and her unborn child at a checkpoint. McCoy, the whistleblower, is cautioned by his father that his sanity will be the first thing to be questioned in a court martial if he speaks out. But the military authorities don't even need to go that far; they simply bully McCoy into the line that he saw nothing.
'Redacted', of course, means edited: the title of the film reflects the central preoccupation with controlled versions of the truth. But the title also resonates with echoes of the word 'action'. The film questions: when we know that the brutality continues and that we are no longer being told the truth, how can we act?
'Redacted' provides an answer to its own question. In its inspiring bravery and focus on the truth getting out, it gets the truth out through its absolute commitment to the fictionalisation of the atrocities of this war.
'Collateral Damage' is the title of the final section of the film, which shows photographs of the bodies of Iraqis maimed and killed. We recognise in these real photographs the bloody body of the pregnant woman killed at the checkpoint and the charred remains of the raped teenager. We recognize the bodies of those whose stories the film has not shied away from telling.
On leaving the cinema, frustration and anger nevertheless remain that – due to the grim truth of cover-ups and silences that this film so vividly portrays – we do not know the actual stories of these Iraqis, such as the story of Abeer Qasim Hamza al-Janabi who was gang raped, killed and burnt by American soldiers in Mahmudiya, south of Baghdad, in March 2006.
REDACTED is showing this week at Queen's Film Theatre.
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