Intellectual Heritage


Mosaic at the Movies

Wednesdays at 5:15pm in 821 Anderson Hall

February 5 Where Soldiers Come From

February 12 Full Metal Jacket

February 19 Beau Travail

February 26 Gunner Palace

March 12 Lioness

March 19 Generation Kill

March 26 Lebanon

April 2 Restrepo

April 9 Das Boot

April 16 Waltz with Bashir

April 23 The Hurt Locker

April 30 Return

 
Where Soldiers Come From, Heather Courtney (2011)

Filmmaker Heather Courtney follows three friends as they go from teenagers with few prospects to military veterans in this documentary. Matt Beaudoin, Dominic Fredianelli, and Cole Smith have known each other since they were kids growing up in Hancock, a small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Hancock is in an economic slump that's made it difficult to find work and none of the guys can afford college on their own, so not long after graduating from high school, they sign up for the National Guard in hopes of earning money for school. Just as they expected, the three young men are promptly called up for military service, and Where Soldiers Come From follows them as they receive their basic training and are sent to Afghanistan, patrolling roadways looking for improvised explosive devices. The film charts their evolving attitudes about the war and American foreign policy as they see how it works up close, as well as their sometimes tense relationships with their families, who aren't certain the young men will ever come home. Director Courtney also documents the soldiers' return to civilian life and the differences their years in uniform have made. —Mark Deming


Full Metal Jacket, Stanley Kubrick (1987)

For his first film since 1980's The Shining, legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick turned his attention to this adaptation of Gustav Hasford's The Short Timers, creating a harrowing Vietnam War picture that was one of the last of the slew of war films being made in this period in the late 1980s. Full Metal Jacket is widely described as a two-act film, the first being a gripping look at Marine basic training and madness, and the second covering more conventional battleground territory. As with any Kubrick film, though, it has more on its mind than typical war sentiments, as it is a vital addition to his body of work illustrating the poisoning of the human spirit and the cruelty that men are capable of. —Jason Clark


Beau Travail, Claire Denis (1999)

Loosely based on Herman Melville's Billy Budd and clearly influenced by the works of Alain Resnais, Claire Denis's film is a complex, beautifully photographed look into foreignness of all stripes. Within the film's elegant opening montage, Denis sets up the French Legion's estrangement to Djibouti's harsh landscape, and the French empire's estrangement from its distant, glorious past. Denis details obsessively not only the rituals of military life but the half-naked bodies of the legionnaires in a manner that both recalls and obliquely mocks Leni Riefenstahl. The constant motif of the male form also sets up the homoerotic tension between Galoup (Denis Lavant), Commanding Office Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), and underling Sentain (Gregoire Colin). Lavant's performance during Galoup's dancing scene at the end of the film is a revelation, in turns stiff and free, awkward and graceful, and crazed and liberated. Making use of flashbacks and flash-forwards, Denis spins a poetic, passionate, and compelling tale of envy and alienation. —Jonathan Crow


Gunner Palace, Michael Tucker (2004)

Shortly after President George W. Bush announced that "major combat operations have ended" in the war in Iraq, filmmaker Michael Tucker (a self-described "Army brat" whose father served in Vietnam) traveled to Baghdad, where he and his camera crew were embedded with the 2-3 Army Field Artillery unit, improbably based out of a bombed-out mansion which once belonged to Saddam Hussein and his son Uday. Tucker and his crew spent two months with the soldiers of the 2-3 FA (in September 2003 and February 2004), following the young men and women as they went about their daily rounds in a land where they were welcomed by some and targeted by others. Gunner Palace offers a sympathetic but objective portrait of the American fighters as they go on routine patrol, try to ferret out insurgents, help train Iraqi forces, keep an eye peeled for homemade explosives, police some of the local troublemakers, and for the most part simply try to get through their days without the loss of life and limb in the midst of what they sarcastically call "minor combat operations." Gunner Palace received its world premier at the 2004 Telluride Film Festival and became the first documentary about the war in Iraq to be shot and released while the war was still taking place. —Mark Deming


Lioness, Meg McLagen and Daria Sommers (2008)

Official U.S. policy dictates that female soldiers are forbidden from engaging in direct ground combat, and in this documentary filmmakers Meg McLagen and Daria Sommers explore the reasons why the women of Team Lioness were dispatched on missions with all male combat units during the Iraq War. Despite the fact that these brave heroines received almost no combat training before being deployed to Iraq on non-combat duty, they played a crucial role in diffusing tensions with local civilians while frequently becoming caught up in deadly ground skirmishes. With this film, McLagen and Sommers pay tribute to the unsung women of war who risked their lives for the cause of freedom yet received virtually no public recognition for their bravery and sacrifice. —Jason Buchanan


Generation Kill, David Simon, creator (2008)

Generation Kill follows the highly trained Marines of First Recon Battalion through the first 40 days of the Iraq war. The seven-part miniseries portrays the true story of the young Marines' experience at the tip of the spear of the American invasion, as they contend with equipment shortages, incompetent commanding officers, ever-evolving Rules of Engagement and an unclear strategy. Generation Kill is based on the award-winning book by Evan Wright, who was embedded with First Recon and originally reported the story in a series of articles for Rolling Stone. The series also benefited greatly from from the presence of two of the real-life Marines it depicts—Sgt. Eric Kocher and Cpl. Jeffrey Carisalez—who served as consultants. A third First Recon Marine, Sgt. Rudy Reyes, appears in the miniseries, portraying himself.


Lebanon, Samuel Maoz (2009)

A handful of soldiers take a claustrophobic journey into the heart of war in this drama from Israeli writer and director Samuel Maoz. It's June 1982, and Israel is launching an invasion of Lebanon. Four men assigned to take part in the first strike are put on the same tank detail—Assi (Itay Tiran) is the commanding officer, Shmulik (Yoav Donat) is a gunner new to the outfit, Hertzel (Oshri Cohen) keeps the weapons loaded, and Yigal (Michael Moshonov) drives the machine. After being given their orders by Jamil (Zohar Strauss), the men set out toward the Lebanese border, recognizing little of what goes on outside beyond what can be seen through Yigal's tiny window; they occasionally stop to help fellow Israelis hurt in battle, but for the most part, they roll relentlessly onward, occasionally arguing amongst themselves, until they arrive at their destination, a town already bombed into rubble by the Israeli Air Force. Few of their allies remain in the city, putting the soldiers in a perilous situation when a band of Syrian resistance fighters lays siege to the tank. —Mark Deming


Restrepo, Sebastian Junger (2010)

Restrepo is such a battlefield immersion, it almost works against itself. It almost makes a person forget it's even a documentary, creating an expectation to see everything you'd see in a Hollywood war movie, including people dying onscreen. In fact, a soldier operating out of the Restrepo outpost in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley does indeed die while the filmmakers' cameras are rolling nearby. It's just that Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger had too much respect for the soldier's dignity to include the footage in the final film. The filmmakers embed themselves with such gusto that it sets a new standard in shooting combat, but the majority of Restrepo is not about the surface-level thrill of bullets whizzing by the camera. Its heart and soul is to examine the unique circumstances of one of the most unforgiving battle fronts in American combat theater, and how soldiers with a range of different personalities respond to those circumstances. Because Hetherington and Junger also appreciate subtlety, they don't give us many "big moments" with these characters, moments orchestrated to manipulate us. Yet their small seeds of doubt, their minute indications of fear, and their palpable yearnings for home give these soldiers the kind of emotional depth most screenwriters work overtime to attain. Hetherington and Junger are smart to avoid taking their own position on the war, correctly recognizing that such a stance might hinder what they're trying to accomplish. And as much as they capture a disdain among troops for the enemies of America, they also show us the military's genuine attempts at positive outreach with ordinary Afghanis. The film has a tragic epilogue that occurs offscreen. Less than a year after Restrepo's theatrical release, Hetherington paid the ultimate price for his journalistic fearlessness, losing his life to a mortal shell in Libya. —Derek Armstrong


Das Boot, Wolfgang Petersen (1981)

Das Boot is one of the most gripping and authentic war movies ever made. Based on an autobiographical novel by German World War II photographer Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, the film follows the lives of a fearless U-Boat captain (Jurgen Prochnow) and his inexperienced crew as they patrol the Atlantic and Mediterranean in search of Allied vessels, taking turns as hunter and prey. There's very little plot, so the movie's power comes from both its riveting, epic battle scenes and its details of the boring hours spent waiting for orders or signs of the enemy. With the exception of one staunch Hitler Youth lieutenant, none of the crew is particularly loyal to the Nazis, and some are openly hostile toward their Fuhrer; this allows viewer sympathy with the men as they perform their laborious, monotonous duties in cramped, filthy quarters, or await death as depth charges explode all around the sub. Prochnow is excellent as the nerves-of-steel commander, and many of the supporting actors—all German—are solid as well, although the characterizations border on war movie clichés (the young crewman who has left behind his pregnant girlfriend, the Chief Engineer whose wife is seriously ill). The real star, however, is cinematographer Jost Vacano, who makes the sub's grimy, claustrophobic interior come to vivid life, as his camera follows the crew through hatches, up ladders, into bunks, and under pipes, creating a palpable sense of claustrophobia while injecting it with movement. —Don Kaye


Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman (2008)

Director Ari Folman's animated, quasi-documentary Waltz with Bashir follows the filmmaker's emotional attempt to decipher the horrors that unfolded one night in September of 1982, when Christian militia members massacred more than 3000 Palestinian refugees in the heart of Beirut as Israeli soldiers surrounded the area. Folman was one of those soldiers, but nearly 20 years after the fact, his memories of that night remain particularly hazy. After hearing an old friend recall a vivid nightmare in which he is pursued by 26 ferocious dogs, Folman and his friend conclude that the dream must somehow relate to that fateful mission during the first Lebanon War. When Folman realizes that his recollections regarding that period in his life seem to have somehow been wiped clean, he travels the world to interview old friends and fellow soldiers from the war. Later, as Folman's memory begins to emerge in a series of surreal images, he begins to uncover a truth about himself that will haunt him for the rest of his days. —Jason Buchanan


The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow (2008)

The story follows bomb squad Staff Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner) as he comes to terms with the fact that nothing much else matters in his life other than being the best at what he can do—which is strap on a 100-lb. suit in 110+ degree heat and walk into a dangerous situation that he knows he can handle. The reason to see the engrossing Hurt Locker isn't so much to soak in the politics of war or be overwhelmed by an overblown Hollywood budget, but to be taken on a journey of one breathless scene of tension after another. On the way, the heart of the picture makes itself apparent, but until then, this is an exemplary display of craft that's sure to take your breath away. Some have labeled The Hurt Locker an action film, but that's a bit deceiving. What it lacks in traditional combat scenes, it more than makes up for in nail-biting tension. With each and every set piece, Bigelow amps up the pressure in precise ways that keep the audience nailed to their seats, as if they are right there in the midst of the war zone. The absence of a score in key scenes adds to the realism, as does the handheld cinematography, complete with the same kind of slight shake and quick zooms used to best effect within documentary filmmaking. And when the picture isn't ramping up your heart rate, it switches gears and becomes an intimate character study in what war does to humankind. Whether it's facing deadly obstacles that you live to overcome or being saddled with a crew member whose adrenaline addiction has put you directly in the line of fire, the hardships of war don't leave you with a lot of easy ways to return to normality in its aftermath. Though apolitical in much of its intentions, the film does nail home that fact—which might end up being one of the strongest wartime messages of all. —Jeremy Wheeler


Return, Liza Johnson (2011)

A weary war veteran grows increasingly isolated after returning from her tour of duty, waging a valiant fight to stay connected to the people she loves in the town where she grew up in this earnest drama starring Linda Cardellini and Michael Shannon. Kelli (Cardellini) has just returned home from serving her country, and all she wants is to experience life the way it was before the war. But as her friends grow increasingly distracted by minutia and her children vie for her undivided attention, a chasm begins to open up between Kelli and her loving husband Mike (Shannon), who can't relate to her experiences on the battlefield. Now, as Kelli becomes a stranger to the very people she grew up with, her life begins to take a series of unexpected turns that leave her struggling to forge a new path into the future. —Jason Buchanan

 


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