Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Female soldiers in the US army are not supposed to fight. They did in Iraq in the early years. Perhaps they still do.

Lioness tells their story. Except it doesn’t tell it with enough depth, or footage. The problem lies in a reluctance to prejudice the chaos of the conflict with an incisive truth. Scenes of Americans mistreating civilians are avoided, although midnight raids on family homes in Ramadi appear terrifying enough.

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By concentrating on five women, the impact of individual experience is deflected. Shannon is given the most screen time, which is a good decision. Despite a confident first impression, this big blonde, with eyes too close together and a ready smile, deserves a film all to herself.

Contrary to the buddy-fixated, closed-fisted, macho-driven male stereotype, she doesn’t play role games. She is who she is and if anyone has doubts talk to her Marine commander. While on patrol in a dangerous district of the city insurgents opened fire and her comrades took cover without giving her warning and she found herself alone in the street with bullets flying around her head. She escaped into a building and up onto the roof. When reporting back to the commander, she kicked him in the nuts for what his soldiers did, or didn’t do, to help her.

Shannon enlisted as a mechanic, but her skill with a rifle, honed throughout childhood in Arkansas, shooting squirrels, attracted Team Lioness, an all female unit, from which she was transferred to an elite Marine platoon. On returning home the memories were so vivid that she feared sleep because of the nightmares. She was talking about suicide when she first came back, couldn’t watch the news on TV and stopped reading the papers. She talks of the difficulty of returning to a society that has no idea what is going on in the war and, like survivors of the Holocaust, cannot speak of it.

Of all the women in Meg McLagan and Daria Sommers’ documentary Shannon’s story is the most compelling, due to her personality and strength of character and the love shared with her aged adopted parents. Ultimately, however, it is the unspoken experience, the agony that is Iraq, which hangs so heavy in the vacuum between what you see and what you imagine. Lioness touches a nerve and then lets go.

In case it hurts.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2008
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Women soldiers in Iraq.

Director: Meg McLagan, Daria Sommers

Year: 2008

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: US

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