RESTREPO IS the documentary about American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan that won the top prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year. The main purpose of the film is to show what combat is really like.
RESTREPO is not an especially well made movie, but it does convey the life-and-death nightmare of combat. It also shows the futility of the war effort in Afghanistan and the irreparable harm done to the soldiers who have to fight there.
Compiled from 150 hours of footage shot over the course of a year, the film chronicles the efforts of a fifteen man American platoon in Afghanistan.
And, of course, a few people get killed, because the men are under daily attack. "It takes a little bit out of you every time you see one of your boys get hurt," the lieutenant in charge tells the filmmakers. "It's really like a big family."
The title of the film is also the name of the first member of the platoon to be killed, Juan Restrepo, a 20 year old medic. The men also give his name to the base they build on top of a remote mountain.
After a platoon near Restrepo loses several men in one day, the lieutenant has this to say: "I want you guys to mourn and then I want you to get over it and do your jobs."
The fear never lets up. It's worse at night because the men can't see what's coming at them.
There's no narration in the film and no political point of view.
The best parts are interviews with the soldiers who managed to survive their hellish tour of duty.
"I cannot sleep," one man says. "Sleeping pills don't help. That's how bad the nightmares are." I
Another survivor says, "I still haven't figured out how to deal with it inside. The only hope I have right now is that eventually I'll be able to process it differently. I'm never gonna forget it. I don't wanna not have that as a memory because that was one of the moments that made me appreciate everything that I have."
As it was in Vietnam, it's difficult to tell who is the enemy in this alien place.
"I kill a bunch of bad guys," says the lieutenant. "In the same instance I'm killing five locals. I need to know better so that I'm not killing these people."
RESTREPO is not entertaining; it's gut wrenching. But it's an important film but for people who want to see what fighting in Afghanistan is really like.
Unfortunately, RESTREPO is showing only in Mililani.