UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
"Restrepo filmmakers Sebastian Junger (left) and Tim Hetherington in Afghanistan. Hetherington , a photojournalist, was killed in April in Libya. Copyright Tim Hetherington

Restrepo

Documentary reminds us that it’s not just life that’s risked when we wage war

By Cory Ruf

Restrepo
Directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger
(Outpost Films)


The 2010 documentary Restrepo introduces viewers to the Korengal Valley, a bucolic parcel of land near Afghanistan’s northeastern border with Pakistan. In spite of the locale’s rustic beauty, the documentary dubs it “the deadliest place on Earth,” ground zero for some of the most intense fighting in the Afghanistan war. The soldiers stationed at OP Korengal, the American outpost in the valley, live in constant fear of enemy fire that could rain down at any time from the craggy hilltops.

The filmmakers spend a year with a platoon of affable, cherubic-faced soldiers who have the look and demeanour of a third-tier college football team. In studio interviews and in-the-field clips, the soldiers make little mention of why they are fighting or whom they are trying to protect. Rather, they muse about the back-and-forth battle strategy, friends they have lost, life back home and their uncertainty about the future. These are sobering reminders that it is not just life that is risked when we wage war but also the innocence of those who survive.

As the film progresses, the Americans forge further into Taliban territory, setting up an outpost, OP Restrepo, named after a fallen comrade. But at this precarious perch, the soldiers face four to five firefights a day, and become punchy because of the cramped quarters and their close proximity to their unseen attackers.

Tim Hetherington, a renowned British photojournalist who was killed this year while on assignment in Libya, co-directed Restrepo, which may well be remembered as his magnum opus. Filmed in a vérité style, it puts a photojournalist’s eye for detail and juxtaposition on constant display. The viewer’s gaze is directed to an Afghan elder, who, while in a meeting with American troops, struggles to open a space-age juice box he’s been given to drink. Another shot features a soldier peppering the hillsides with machine gun rounds. The camera tilts down to reveal shell casings dropping near his feet — curiously, clad in preppy boat shoes.

Restrepo is a harrowing, unromantic look at combat in Afghanistan. It examines the lives of soldiers through a critical yet compassionate lens but lets viewers decide whether they believe the soldiers’ sacrifices are worthwhile, futile or somewhere in between.

Cory Ruf is a Toronto writer.


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image

Society

July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots

World

June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.

Justice

June 2017

Undocumented

by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.

World

June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.

Society

April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart

Society

March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image