"Redacted": Brian De Palma and the Politics of Image Today By Pedro Butcher

in 64th Venice International Film Festival

by Pedro Butcher

Brian De Palma’s Redacted is a surprise detour in the director’s career. Better known for some visually stunning homage to great filmmakers such as Eisenstein (in The Untouchables, 1987), Hitchcock (in Dressed to Kill, 1980) and Antonioni (in Blow Out, 1981), in Redacted he plunges into a whole new cinematic experience.

With no obvious references to movie history, the film is 100 percent connected with the present state of the world as it proposes, at first, an urgent statement on the United States politics of war. But De Palma did not make a simple propaganda film. Rather, he produced a deep reflection on the politics of images in the world today, by presenting the film as a never-seen before compendium of new formats of capturing and distributing image and sound (video diaries, blogs testimonials, You Tube postings, homemade documentaries, surveillance cameras, etc).

The project of Redacted started in October 2006, when De Palma was contacted by a representative of HDNet (the same company that produced Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble) proposing the making of a US$ five million film. There was only a single condition: it should be shot in high-definition video. The director said he would agree, if he could find an appropriate material for the medium.

That’s when he came across this episode of the Iraq War in which four US soldiers at a check point in Samarra, perpetrated a brutal attack on a local family, raping and murdering a young girl, burning her body, and killing her parents and sister. This piece of news impressed him not only because he had read this story before (though set in Vietnam), but also made a film out of it, called Casualties of War (1989).

Sickened with the repetition of History and, most of all, with the radical changes on the mass communication medium’s attitude from Vietnam to Iraq (the title is a straight reference to the ways information is being edited and filtered by mainstream media today), De Palma decided to tell this story again, in a new way.

Finding very little about it on the traditional sources of information, he researched on the internet, coming out with a 100-page report and extensive audiovisual material about the episode. The format of the film, he tells, came naturally from this research: “I presented the material as it presented itself to me”, he said.

With simple resources and blended material, Redacted recreates the daily life of soldiers in Iraq through multiple points of view, staged by unknown actors. By the end of the film (which never presents itself as a pure documentary), a series of true pictures taken in Iraq are shown, after which the audience, inevitably, is in a state of shock.

Apparently, Redacted has absolutely nothing to do with the material De Palma has produced before, but it would be quite reductive to consider his earlier films as a mere bricolage of movie quotations. On the contrary, De Palma was always concerned with the superficiality of image and its true capacity of depicting truth — a capacity that comes through ideas, and not through the pretension of portraying reality faithfully.

In this sense, Redacted is one of the highlights of his body of work, a film that reveals the politics of De Palma’s cinema and, at the same time, represents the reinvention of a filmmaker with the full domain of his tools. Moreover, it confirms a true capacity to respond to the state of the world today, a rare quality in American contemporary cinema.