Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Oscar Documentaries: 'Restrepo' & 'Exit Through The Gift Shop'

RESTREPO (war documentary)
Cast: Members of a US Army Battle Company platoon in Afghanistan
Directors: Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington
Time: 94 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

Capt Kearney (left) in a scene from RESTREPO

This is a real-life Hurt Locker, set in a valley in Afghanistan in what CNN dubbed “the most dangerous place in the world”. The movie, and a US Army outpost is named after Juan S. Restrepo, a jovial 20-year-old private who was killed in a firefight in June 2007 - the time when the docu was shot.

Sebastian Junger and co-director Tim Hetherington spent 15 months in the Korangal Valley — a Taliban stronghold and returned with 150 hours of tape they later intercut with interviews of the soldiers lucky enough to return home. The result is a mix of the traumatic and post-traumatic footage of soldiers under attack from an unseen enemy, underpinned by intimate, very human memories.

Understandably, it is not as dramatic (or melodramatic) as Hurt Locker but watching it is like being a part of the platoon as they go about their tour of duty, digging trenches and fortifying their outpost, engaging the enemy and trying to win the hearts of the locals. One thing that goes on in our mind is "what the hell are the US soldiers doing here?" The docu does not seek to provide answers to this and other questions. It just shows what the platoon members did, what they thought of the events - and how glad they were to go home. We are glad for their pullout too.

EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP (documentary on street graffiti)
Cast: 'Banksy', Shepard Fairey, Thierry Guetta, Rhys Ifans, Space Invader and Jay Leno
Director: 'Banksy'
Time: 87 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

I have always thought of street graffiti as a prank on society and destruction of public property. After watching this, I gained a new respect for the 'artists' whose passion for 'guerrilla street art' takes them through so much trouble and risks. Exit Through The Gift Shop is purportedly directed by 'Banksy', a shadowy British street artist whose stencils of rats and puckish acts of mischief have made him a global cult figure.

Here, Banksy provides a running commentary on his exploits and on those of his friend Thierry Guetta - with Banksy's face blacked out and his voice disguised.

Thierry, a Frenchman living in Los Angeles, has a fetish about recording everything on his videocam. He is actually the main star of this show which documents his obsessions, like following graffiti artists with his handycam to record their pranks, and how this madness turned into something of a business for him. If I said 'madness', I mean a crazed fascination with Thierry capturing valuable footage on how these guerrilla artists pursue their passion.

The one thing that goes on in our mind as we watch this docu is: "Is it art, or trash disguised as art?" We may apply the same for this provocative documentary too.

NB: I caught these two documentaries on Netflix.


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