De Palma takes a Vietnam lesson and applies it to a new war

[12 September 2007]

By Duane Dudek

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MCT)

TORONTO - Director Brian De Palma will never forget Sept. 11 as long as he lives. It’s his birthday.

In 2001, he was at the Toronto International Film Festival and watched the falling towers projected onto the big screen instead of the movie he went to see. Every birthday since has been shared with that terrible anniversary.

“It’s extremely vivid,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “And I live in Greenwich Village.”

Six years later, De Palma, 67, is here with a work rooted in those events.

Every festival has a flashpoint film whose reputation is either deserved, like “Brokeback Mountain,” or ephemeral, like “Death of a President,” a fictional obituary of President Bush that never saw wide release. This year, that flashpoint film could be “Redacted,” De Palma’s update of his Vietnam War atrocity film, “Casualties of War,” about a new war, for a new generation, using new technologies, and for which he won the best director award at the Venice Film Festival.

“Redacted,” whose title refers to censored information, is due for release this fall. It’s described as a “visual document” of “imagined events” based on the rape and murder of an Iraqi woman and her family by U.S. soldiers in 2006.

The film is the extremely violent, blunt and broadly acted point of the spear in a phalanx of Iraq war-themed offerings - including the torture drama “Rendition,” and “In the Valley of Elah,” about the death of a soldier after he returns home from Iraq, by “Crash” director Paul Haggis - that give this year’s Toronto Film Festival the melancholy atmosphere of a loved one’s funeral.

“Redacted” was born last year when Mark Cuban’s HDNet production company offered De Palma $5 million to make a film about a subject of his choice “if I shot on high definition” digital video, De Palma said. “And then I read about the incident, which was like `Casualties of War,’ and I thought, `It’s happening again.’ “

While doing research on the Internet, De Palma “found all the digital ways the story was being told” and decided to simulate those forms in the film.

“I don’t know what to call” the result, he said. “All I can say is I that I discovered the stories of the soldiers, people who were angry about the war, wives of soldiers and the actual news stories about the incident were all . . . in a very unique form (like) these YouTube postings that nobody knew about two or three years ago.

“It’s a whole new information media, and since it’s somewhat free, you tend to get more a more candid and honest look at what’s going on.”

De Palma said the soldiers who commit such atrocities were sent to “wreak damage on a country where they don’t understand the people, can’t speak the language, can’t tell the enemy from civilians. And then your best buddy is blown up next to you. That’s what this movie is trying to show - how these guys go off the rails.”

While the barrage of news from Iraq can be desensitizing, he said, films “can take such information and construct it in a dramatic and emotional way.”

De Palma, who directed violent films such as “Scarface,” “Carrie” and “The Untouchables,” argued that the violence in “Redacted,” including a beheading and gruesome photos of civilian victims, is important because “since the images we saw in Vietnam turned the public against” that war, “the architects of this war learned to keep (such) images off the television and out of the newspapers.”

Showing such images in films like “Redacted,” he said, “can only help the situation.”

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