August 31, 2007

Venice. Redacted.

"Brian De Palma's filmmaking skills have seldom been as razor sharp as they are in his sensational new film about members of a US Army squad who rape and murder a 15-year-old Iraqi girl and slay her family," writes Ray Bennett for the Hollywood Reporter. "Made on HD video and employing images from digital cameras, video recorders, Internet uploads and old-fashioned film, [Redacted] is a ferocious argument against the engagement in Iraq for what it is doing to everyone involved."


"Redacted packs an extraordinary emotional punch," writes the Telegraph's David Gritten. The final montage "left the audience at a Venice press screening stunned, silent and in a few cases tearful. The combination of De Palma's visceral style and the horrifying subject matter left me reeling."

"De Palma told reporters after the movie screened that he hoped the film would help bring an end to our country's occupation of Iraq," notes Adam Howard at Alternet. "'The pictures are what will stop the war,' said De Palma."

Updated through 9/6.

Update: Looks like this one might be one of those films that severely divides audiences into two opposing camps. For Variety's Derek Elley, Redacted is a "[d]eeply felt but dramatically unconvincing 'fictional documentary' [... that...] has almost nothing new to say about the Iraq situation and can't make up its mind about how to package its anger in an alternative cinematic form. HD-lensed item, largely using thesps with legit experience, feels more like a filmed Off Broadway play than a docudrama, and has trouble establishing a consistent dramatic tone."

Updates, 9/1: "The critics seem to like it; the public is snubbing it, making faces. What about us? We are more and more convinced that it is a masterpiece." Eugenio Renzi blogs for Cahiers du cinéma.

"Designed to resemble an American's soldier video blog from Iraq, with additional footage from a French-language pseudo-documentary, YouTube clips and reports from local TV crews, Brian de Palma's attempt to reveal some of the expurgated truth behind the media coverage of the war in Iraq ultimately backfires on him," writes Dan Fainaru for Screen Daily. "The evidence of a well-honed professional sensibility behind the camera is too obvious to make the such a fiction actually believable."

Mark Salisbury, blogging over at Glenn Kenny's place, finds this one "a film of noble intentions but unsatisfactory execution. It’s also, very much, a Brian De Palma movie, in that it feels like a 'movie' (which, in this case, is a problem)... Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, United 93) and Michael Winterbottom (In This World, Road To Guantanamo) have shown how this stuff should and can be done, making films that blur the lines between documentary and drama to recreate a reality. De Palma has merely restaged one, and none too convincingly."

Meanwhile, Glenn himself posted last night, with the press screening not even "48 hours old, and the movie is drawing the wrath of pro-war blog personalities who, unlike Mark, haven't laid their eyes on a single frame." Linkage follows... to a very strange world indeed.

Online viewing tip. De Palma talks to Yael Lavie of Sky News. Via Keith Uhlich at the House Next Door.

"[T]his dogpile on DePalma also reminds me that the neo-neocons are ingrates who fail to recognize one of their prophets," adds Glenn Kenny, who can't seem to pull his eyes away. Screencaps and a few good snickers follow.

Updates, 9/2: "De Palma has been investigating the question of visual veracity for most of his 40-year career," writes Time's Richard Corliss. "Redacted takes him back, back, past the Hitchcock homages and the action epics, back to his earliest films: Greetings and Hi, Mom!, two innovative satires on the Vietnam War.... His new movie has torrents of words and goes heavy on macho posturing; at times it suggests a ragged off-off-Broadway play.... But Redacted pretty successfully sustains a dual level of hysteria (in its content) and disinterest (in its film-long framing devices). It's an amazingly vigorous work for a filmmaker who turns 67 on Sept 11, and his strongest cinematic and political statement at least since Casualties of War, his Vietnam film of 1989. The movie is a cry of national shame; for De Palma, it's a new badge of honor for a wily old vet."

"About 10 people walked out of this afternoon's Telluride screening of Brian DePalma's Redacted, most during a horrific rape scene right in the center of the picture," reports Karina Longworth at the SpoutBlog. "The bulk of those who stayed gave the HD dramatization of the real-life rape and murder of a 15 year old Iraqi girl by US soldiers an overwhelmingly positive reception.... But regardless of his intentions, it's hard to imagine the film DePalma has made having any positive impact on the anti-war movement. With the exception of the final montage of real photographs, which DePalma indicated may be 'redacted' from the final cut for legal reasons, it's far too stagey to have any real emotional impact. If anything, it's going to further enrage the side that continues to insist that anyone who questions the war or the way its been fought loves the terrorists, hates our troops, should be executed for committing treason, etc. DePalma aims to hit the jugular, but his approach makes someone like Charles Ferguson seem all the wiser for aiming for the brain."

"The job of the filmmaker is no longer to put other images than the media's in front of you; it is no longer to put the truth behind the images that are hiding it; it is not the search for the right point of view, the quest for the initial shot of the film to be as thrilling as it is impossible," writes Emmanuel Burdeau in Cahiers du cinéma's Venice diary. "We are no longer in a Brian De Palma film. The task at hand is simply to offer a certain way of laying out existing visuals: horizontally, as flat and glistening as the screen these lines are written on."

At AICN, Mastidon has a few spoilers and a warning: "I must caution you not to see this movie on a full stomach as it is EXTREMELY violent. However, if the violence was removed or somehow cut back, the movie would lose its message."

Updates, 9/3: "[T]he film isn't particularly well acted and relies on irritating improv (i.e., it feels scripted) while it also loses focus," writes the Observer's Jason Solomons. "Yes, this is a stupid war. Yes, there are lots of media outlets. And people are dying on both sides."

"When director Brian De Palma took the stage at the 64th Venice Film Festival yesterday after the screening of his controversial film Redacted, he wept quietly as the audience of 2000 gave the New Yorker a 10-minute standing ovation. Behind him - equally weepy - were two relatively unknown Canadians, Simone Urdl and Jennifer Weiss, whose company, the Film Farm, produced the movie that was the toast of Venice." Gayle Macdonald profiles them for the Globe and Mail. Via Movie City News.

"During the screening [in Telluride], some audience members noticeably averted their eyes during graphic moments and after a striking coda of Iraqi casualty photos, one attendee began wailing loudly before being gently escorted out of the theater by a companion," reports indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez. "Probed about the film's stance, and addressing the issue of whether the film demonizes US soldiers, DePalma countered emphatically, 'Hey, it's a big bad war out there and we need all the help we can get. If I can make a fiction film that will help, more power to me.' Concluding the thought, he added, 'We are all on the same team, we hate this war and want it to end.'"

"The problems I have with the film are myriad," writes David Poland. "If the film didn't steal so freely from the many quality documentaries that actually put documentarians in harms way to attempt to get a more accurate picture of what is happening on the ground in Iraq, I don't think I would have found it so grating.... But in the end, as offensive as the simplistic portrait of the soldiers is aside from a nascent look at checkpoint politics that is embodied by a fake French doc, my biggest reaction was a 'What does this movie actually add to the conversation?'"

Update, 9/4: "The look of seemingly fly-on-the-wall footage can sometimes give a story a gritty immediacy - surely what De Palma is seeking - but it can also create an air of improvisation, playfulness and even comedy, and that's what happens too often here - which isn't very helpful when you're trying to convey the real horror of a street-kidnapping or a decapitation," writes Time Out's Dave Calhoun. "The greatest flaw is that the actors generally aren't up to the task and so don't convince as US soldiers - they play like actors playing US soldiers."

"[W]hat Mr De Palma may really inspire audiences to do is not to watch his patchwork film, but to make their own." New York Times television writer Virginia Heffernan gathers a little online viewing.

Update, 9/6: Ray Pride passes along Mark Cuban's reply to an "o'reilly factor request": "The movie is fully pro Troops. The hero of the movie is a soldier who stands up for what is right in the face of adversity."

Covering the coverage: Venice 07. Index.

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Posted by dwhudson at August 31, 2007 1:11 PM


Wonder what armond will have to say about this one

Posted by: arsheikh at August 31, 2007 4:50 PM

Is this with Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox?

Posted by: Jerry Lentz at September 1, 2007 2:00 AM

I'll never forget sitting a few seats away from DePalma when "Man Bites Dog," the Belgian mock-dock about a serial killer, was screened at the Toronto Film Festival. The film uses an extremely repellent rape and murder scene to reverse, suddenly and brutally, the cynical, blackly comic point of view it has been employing up until that point, forcing the audience to confront the reality of what we've been laughing at all along. That didn't work with DePalma, who continued to laugh loudly all the way through the rape sequence. I've never been able to stomach his films since, and this one sounds like the most hypocritical yet.

Posted by: mizoguchi at September 1, 2007 7:04 AM

The mistaken and ignorant deification of that hack Paul Greengrass continues.


Posted by: Joseph at September 1, 2007 8:26 AM


Posted by: SOLZANNA at September 1, 2007 1:41 PM

the Good Link: A Venice Diary

Posted by: Eri at September 1, 2007 2:58 PM

That *is* a good link, thanks. Wonder why some of this isn't appearing in the feed; also, Emmanuel Burdeau's entry on Redacted, "The War," doesn't seem to "Continue"...

Well, I'm sure it'll appear.

Posted by: David Hudson at September 1, 2007 3:06 PM

The War "Continue"... "Still on the Horizon"

Posted by: Eri at September 2, 2007 2:12 AM

Many thanks again, Eri.

Posted by: David Hudson at September 2, 2007 6:11 AM

Stop the War Mr. De Palma
By Allan Erickson

Brian De Palma is making a big slash with his $5m “documentary? about the Iraq war. According to some reviews, the movie is more violent than the atrocity it documents.

Apparently De Palma believes and hopes his violence will stop that violence. (And they say war never solves anything.)

De Palma says his film is about Americans at war, about “what we do, and we need to stomach it.?

And he is just the man to make us stomach it: a propagandist of notable accomplishment, not far a field from the jihad propagandists, people schooled in atrocity.

In a recent statement, De Palma declared: “When I read about the Mahmudiya incident in Iraq 2006---five US soldiers raped a local girl, killed her and her family and later tried to disguise it as an insurgent attack----I knew I had a story.?

Trolling for a story upon which to focus his documentary lens, the celebrated director selected a fringe incident, urging us to believe it characterizes the American soul, using this terrible, unusual event to condemn the entire U.S. military and mission.

Sound reasonable?

This is Hollywood. It’s not about reason, rational analysis, sober judgment or balanced inquiry. It’s about sensation, and profits: kissing cousins.

Lest we forget, the soldiers involved were arrested, tried, and convicted. They are serving very long prison sentences, as is the Marine who killed a grandfather, and tried to cover it up.

We police our own, unlike our enemies.

These are rare, insolated incidents, addressed justly, officially, just as the Haditha Marines were justly exonerated, Marines who fell victim to propaganda floated by our enemies, propaganda promoted by our own media, Marines held up to public ridicule and contempt for months, convicted in the media before they were found innocent of all charges in military court.

De Palma could have spent $5m producing a documentary about how the Hadita Marines were railroaded, or about all the good the American military has done in Iraq. He could have spent the money producing a film about all the millions of private dollars donated to Katrina victims. He might have made a movie about what the Iraqis want, or how America is the only force sufficient to confront evil in the world. But no. None of these uplifting projects sell as well as riding the crest of anti-Americanism held dear and close to the bosoms of Hollywood elites. (And besides, it’s very hard to get a date in Hollywood unless you give full, dramatic voice to your hatred of all things Bush and Republican.)

De Palma might have taken the trouble to document atrocities committed by Islamic psychopaths starting in 1972, atrocities occurring with increasing frequency to the present day where we daily witness murder of women and children, torture and rape, committed globally. He might have focused on real enemies, real threats and pervasive atrocity, but it’s just not cool and PC enough to attract sufficient box office you see.

[Terror incidents in 2007 alone, and this list does not include all the bombings of civilians by al Qaeda and other terrorists in Iraq.]

Rather than focus on real threats to civilization, De Palma spends $5m in an exercise attempting to shame his own countrymen world wide, joining the all out effort to defeat America in this, WWIV. He would have us believe the real friend of freedom, the real defender of women and children, is actually the foe. Yes, folks, the real scoundrel is the American soldier unleashed on an innocent world by a nefarious President, evil to the core.

Predictably De Palma, the arch propagandist, plays the first card in the PR game, making himself a victim even before his critics are heard. Claiming censorship (undocumented of course) he paints a self-portrait of the director as victim, a victim of the madness of war, a victim of the Administration, a victim of abuse and criticism from people who do not care as much as he does.

Fearing lawsuits, he contends he had to fictionalize things “that were actually real.? He says the real footage he acquired from cowed media sources had to be edited to avoid legal action, expecting us to believe this tripe. (Reuters 8/31/07)

Furthermore, in other statements in recent interviews, the sensitive artist, feeling more deeply than the average mortal, expresses surprise at the discovery war is hell. A 66-year-old man who claims to know more than anyone is incredulous in the face of brutality, a brutality central to human existence from the Garden of Eden forward.

Assuming the mantle of a morally superior being, De Palma goes on to cry wolf, and Peace! and Stop the Madness! The narrative reaches climax as De Palma, the victim artist, the suffering servant, makes himself hero and villain, all in one swoop, insisting “I feel helpless to stop these horrible things…this horrible war,? and in the next breath, “I feel like one of the characters in my film…that goes along with the rape in spite of his moral objection to it.?


Charging forward on his cinematic steed, he levels his lance at “the media,? saying it has sold out to corporate interests, thus making it necessary for him to mount the quest for truth, to bring the pictures, the sounds bites, the truth of war to our attention, as he did long after Vietnam was over in another public service, “Casualties of War,? 1989.

The truth? Our son spent many months in Iraq, two tours. He never discharged his weapon one time. He and his comrades witnessed many incidents of atrocity and propaganda. One night, a car filled with people approached their checkpoint at high speed. According to the rules of engagement, they shot a flare, warned the vehicle by bullhorn, flashed lights, all to no effect. Again, according to procedure, they fired warning shots over the vehicle. It did not slow or change direction. They fired at the tires, and the grill, trying to stop the vehicle, to preserve life on both sides. Finally, in desperation, according to procedure, in the face of lethal threat, they unloaded on the occupants. Inspecting the vehicle in the aftermath, survivors testified an insurgent had kidnapped a family, forcing them to run the check point in hopes of drawing fire, intentionally killing fellow Iraqis to score propaganda points.

Brian De Palma appears oblivious to realities on the ground, enemy atrocities happening almost daily, events routinely ignored by American reporters and filmmakers, events happening with far greater frequency than the sad, few and regrettable instances of criminal conduct by our military personnel. [Concerning the conduct of our military: a balanced, academic and insightful work authored by someone who has visited Iraq 22 times, pre and post invasion, can be found in the book "The Faith of the American Soldier," by Stephen Mansfield. Unlike De Palma, Mansfield has actually set foot in Iraq, recently spending extended time embedded with the troops.]

Finally, the high hypocrisy flowing from people like Brian De Palma is especially stark when you consider he has spent much of his career glorifying violence on screen, influencing an entire generation to view brutality as matter of course. De Palma would create violence, dramatize it, profit from it, then condemn it in others, all the way to the bank, and on the way, preach to the rest of us about morality. There are none so blind . . .

People like De Palma have drunk deep from the cup of violence, lining their pockets at the altar of cinematic savagery. Now, they have the audacity to rub our noses in it, condemning our sons and daughters volunteering on the front lines, sons and daughters having nothing to do with misbehavior in this war on terror.

In De Palma’s case it is especially grievous considering his hypocrisy, when it’s likely the soldiers who participated in the Mahmudiya atrocities were compelled somewhere deep in their subconscious minds through the viewing of movies like “Scarface,? “Carlito’s Way,? and “Carrie,? all De Palma movies, all noted for “pushing the envelope of violence and depravity,? according to one reviewer.

How does De Palma's violence against children during the course of decades differ from the violence perpetrated by the Mahmudiya soldiers?

The war waged by Hollywood against our youth, and Hollywood's atrocities, should be made into a documentary.

Stop the War, Mr. De Palma. Stop the Violence.

Breaking news: Apparently Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has accepted a proposal by movie director Oliver Stone to produce a documentary about his life. Thanks again Hollywood. Shall we charter a tour as well to visit Castro, Chavez and Kim Jung Il? Let's send engraved invitations to Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Sean Penn and the gang. We'll have quite a time! Perhaps Hillary and Barack can underwrite the trip?

Posted by: Allan Erickson at September 2, 2007 6:48 PM

This film Redacted should be seen for what it is, another uninformed wacko's attack on the current administration. The sad fact of the matter is that he has chosen to sully the great reputation of our fighting men and women across the world. He should be tried for murder when some Islamic zealot is emboldened to act out against one of our fellow American citizens, as they will. But if it helps, or at least appears to help in the eyes of De Palma's circle of idiots to help the cause to change the party of our executive administration then De Palma will have suceeded, without concern or shame for the deaths or injuries caused. Thanks Mr De Palma for aiding and abetting the terrorists, that is just what they need now that they are getting their asses kicked. Just realize what a great country this would be without fools like you.

Posted by: george hazen at September 11, 2007 8:28 PM