Redacted: The Invisible Film on the ‘Invisible’ War

By the Celluloid Liberation Front

redacted-brian-de-palma.jpgRedacted, 2007

The fanatical ambition of a civilizational clash, whereby our democratic (?) armies would have brought ‘civilization’ and ‘freedom’ to Iraq, is having many tragic consequences, one among them being the dramatic banning of any form of understanding towards what freedom honestly and practically means. What kind of society is it that advocates paranoia, inviting its citizens constantly to doubt each other while terrorising the harmless civilians of an innocent nation? What the unerring intelligence of the exporters of western ‘freedom’ has forgotten is that when, in place of obedience you can offer only death and despair, then your enemy will not care much about its own or anybody else’s life. And it is precisely this ‘forgetfulness’ that we are all paying for now.

With Redacted, the American cineaste Brian de Palma, has chosen, as he did previously in Casualties of War (lynched by the critics at the time of its release), rape as the only possible - and possibly the most apt - symbol of any imperialist operation, an allegory (and actuality) of war and its devastating effects on the social body of the victims as well as on the injured minds of the proactive witnesses to its horror.

In this film De Palma has questioned cinema and its cultural (visual) context in terms of representation; of how to represent an event that the majority is firmly determined to conceal; of how to render with images the visual dyslexia paining those eyes that have seen but do not want to speak out. Redacted is the meeting point where aesthetic reflection converges with a conscious ethical stance whose burden seems to be unbearable for the majority of us.

On its severely limited release, the film was labelled as “hysterical bombast” (Mark Kermode, The Observer) and an “artistic failure” (Cosmo Landesman, The Times) by the liberal press of the oldest ‘democracy’ in the world; in the US screenings were picketed (see, while in Italy it has not received an official release in cinemas. In general Redacted was far from being a well-received film.

redacted-brian-de-palma-2.jpgRedacted, 2007

Departing from the contemporary paradigm of technological convergence, whereby every observer is at the same time an observed subject, De Palma illustrates the spread of a culture of exhibitionism as the potential telematic evolution of cinematographic voyeurism. Terrorism is, occidentally rather than accidentally, gaudy and voyeuristic.

The opening sequences of Redacted are caressed by the notes of Handel’s oeuvre (the same music used by Kubrick in Barry Lyndon) that eloquently – as only music can – introduce the spectator to the intensity of the horror to come. Events since 11/09/2001 and the invasion of Iraq have introduced global audiences to new, rapid forms of communication such as You Tube, phone-made films, blogs and so forth and cinema has functioned (in Redacted at least) as a confabulatory catalyst of these interactive languages.

“The first victim of this war will be the truth,” claims one of the soldiers at the movie’s beginning but De Palma, far from being a moralising barker, immediately exposes the partiality of cinema through the voice of another soldier saying, “the camera always lies.” De Palma’s narrative strategy is depictive of his vision of reality: a cluster of events known not by an omniscient narrator but by whomever has access to the audiovisual archives available on the internet.

If the film’s Hitchcockian suspense is based on the fact that the cinematographic character knows more than the spectator, this means that in Redacted the position of the IED (Improvised Explosive Device) is visible on an insurgent website: Intelligence’s function does not belong to the secret agents anymore but is a possibility given to anybody surfing the global waves of telematics. Ignorance is the inability to connect information, to look for the ‘right’ links, and not the imposed malevolence of an almighty narrator deciding the life and death of its characters.

redacted-brian-de-palma-3.jpgRedacted, 2007

Redacted is a film that we could (and perhaps should) have made ourselves in front of a computer. In the You Tube era we are the editors of our own ongoing works, that we constantly assemble through the potentially meaningful intersections offered by the net whenever we connect to it. As Baudrillard had provocatively warned us during the first Gulf War, the practice of warfare is indivisible from its narrative and representational strategies, with the latter indeed retroacting with the actual forms of war according to the given cultural situation.

That is why Redacted is a masterpiece of congruency between form and content. For De Palma, Redacted represents a sort of return to the subversive insolence characterising his early films such as Greetings or Hi, Mom, where he would mix super-8 family footage and the fleeting lightness of underground comics with the anarchic structure of the freest ‘nouvelle vague’, always stimulating The Responsive Eye (the title of one of his early shorts about an optical art exhibition) that needs to know what is happening (in Iraq).

CLF is a multiple entity – irrepressible, evanescent, clandestine and contradictorily irreconcilable with the glossy images of repressive falsity that are constantly (super)imposed on us. L’auteur est mort, vive Wu Ming! Contact