Nearly all the men in the beige room are wearing sunglasses. Not the fashionable kind, but the thick sort with shiny black lenses that wrap all the way around, lenses that block out all light. These men are veterans of the U.S. military and residents in a California treatment center.
For fourteen months they meet around a table and don’t make eye contact, their tattooed forearms buffering them against the stories they tell. In Of Men and War, nearly nothing happens, because nearly nothing can. Trauma is a kind of freeze, a wall between a person and the world. Over the course of the vets’ time in treatment, and the four years following, in which they try to return to their lives and the people who love them, French director Laurent Bécue-Renard uses interviews and home visits to meticulously document their thoughts, feelings, and experiences, all of which are steeped in trauma endured halfway around the world.
Disregard your personal feelings about the military, U.S. involvement in foreign wars, or a French director making a movie about Americans. This film is raw in the truest sense, yet refined in its sympathy and scope. When the men confess violent visions and urges, it doesn’t make them ugly; what a relief to see something besides the chiseled, identical young soldiers on recruitment posters. What a relief to see ourselves, how we too might find it impossible to overcome flashbacks and go back to work or kiss our children or hold our partners’ hands. What a relief to see men standing in the far corners of the beige room, unable even to sit at the table, while others weep despite themselves.
The honesty is hard to watch, but this film is not about voyeurism; it’s about bearing witness, about the possibility of change.
Of Men and War
Directed by Laurent Bécue-Renard
Distributed by Kino Lorber
Opens November 6, Cinema Village