When a very powerful nation is at war with a very weak nation, the image of rape is, sadly perhaps, a fitting one. Rape contrasts two diametrically opposed views. The aggressor might say that the victim is ‘wants it really’. He feels no remorse, only the enjoyment of his own version of events. For the victim, it may be life destroying.

Rape and war are the outwardly predominant themes of Brian De Palma’s Redacted, which focuses on psychological differences rather than graphic sex or violence. It is the abhorrent psychology that is so unsettling. But the central theme is the difficulty of ascertaining ‘truth’.

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I first started looking at De Palma’s work in a new way after a film festival when a friend told me this story. De Palma: “You’re very lucky.” Friend: “Why’s that?” De Palma: “I’m telling every second person who approaches me that I’m too busy to see them.”

Getting to see a busy celebrity at a festival can be a nightmare unless you are someone important. Will they know who I am? Do they think I am favourable to their work? And so on. De Palma had simply reduced it to the ethics of chance. What you expect is not necessarily what you get. I watched his festival film Black Dahlia in a new light. I forgot the main theme and focussed on the awesome experience of a deluge of innovative cinematography and production design. The journey not the destination.

So with Redacted. There has been a surfeit of Iraq films. Some documentary, a few fiction. Although strongly connected to an alleged incident, Redacted uses dramatic license to let us imagine possibilities. Soldiers with a strict moral code vs frustrated grunts. Western due legal process vs eye for an eye. How differing starting points both report facts but with opposite conclusions. A French news team. American interrogators. Embedded journalists. Surveillance cameras. Or soldiers with camcorders and different views even among themselves.

More importantly, fiction can fill a gap that the most assiduous factual report cannot: it can paint vivid pictures of possibilities. Thinking outside the square. How would you react?

Redacted is harrowing viewing. I was still sitting stunned at the end of the credits. But it is also patchy at times and highly divisive. It won the Silver Lion at Venice. It is the subject of an attempted boycott by right-wing Americans who feel it is unpatriotic to display any US troops fictionally in anything other than a good light. It is easily the most upsetting film about Iraq I have witnessed.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2008
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Controversial story, asking where, in the censored war in Iraq, do we find the truth? Plus read what Brian De Palma said about the film - and the redaction of it, .
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Read more Redacted reviews:

The Exile ****1/2

Director: Brian De Palma

Writer: Brian De Palma

Starring: Izzy Diaz, Robe Devaney, Daniel Stewart Sherman, Kel O’Neill, Ty Jones, Zahara Al Zubaidi, Patrick Carroll

Year: 2007

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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