War seems like this never-ending state of the human condition. As far as we can go into human history, to this very day, war is all-pervasive and a true reflection of audacious human barbarism. Of Men and War is Bécue-Renard’s lens into the mindlessness of war. It goes to the heart of the act and whatever discussion can be had about its consequences. But what is so penetrating about the film is that it looks at the utter stupidity and uselessness of war through the eyes of people who have lived to tell its tales.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other related conditions are the reality people live with on a moment-to-moment, breath-to-breath basis. It’s not a far-fetched clinical diagnosis, with its tears and anxiety and incapacity to live. This is what this film is all about. Of Men and War is a simple presentation of stories of people who are suffering. Through the 140-odd minutes, you can sense that the filmmaker decided to be with the subjects of this documentary. There is little direction and zero intervention – it is a just a witnessing.
The film follows the lives of veterans who are constantly in the whirlpool of emotional destruction. Anger, regret, and anxiety are the only remaining constants as they struggle through their lives, trying to reintegrate into the societies they were protecting. Questions haunt them: did you kill someone? If so, why? Their spouses ask them why they can’t change and just be normal. As tears trickle down their cheeks, they want the guilt and pain to stop, and all they know is that one can’t forget if their hands killed another human being. They come together to try and make sense of it through group therapy, while the audience can access these men through names, status, division where they fought on the battlefront, families: giving them real identities that each of them have.
The recurrent statements started to haunt me: ‘Did you kill?’ ‘Why did you kill?’ ‘Rage and anger carried me through everything.’ It weighs heavily. Bécue-Renard doesn’t use a background score and yet the images haunt the senses. The film ended and all that resonated in my ears was ‘Men as old as 18-19 were sent to the front…’
Of Men and War is now playing at Cinema du Parc.