Of Men and War

PBS Premiere: May 30, 2016Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

Laurent Bécue-Renard: Of Men And War is the story of seven young American men who survived the war in Iraq and came back physically intact from the frontline, but completely broken inside. The story is their story of the last battle they're going to be fighting. It's a battle with themselves in order to face the traumas they have inside themselves, in order to build a new life for themselves with the men they have become.

What I was looking for is where this feeling of a legacy of war within the family was coming from. All of us who grew up in the second half of the 20th century, we carry the legacy of the wars of the first half of the 20th century. What these guys on screen are telling us is our own story. The story of what happened before we were there and the story of what we are carrying unconsciously and against our will. And that's everyone. When one is addressing the question of the legacy of war, one really has to address the question of wrath and anger. And if you spend very little time with a war veteran or a civilian who went through war, you could feel it physically, that anger is there. Anger is the core of the legacy.

There were several choices made from scratch with this film. One was very important for me, it was the fact that onscreen we should see the difference between what I call the front line and the rear. The front line is everything that is shot in the therapy room, when the men are still on the front line, the front line that is not physically in Iraq, but is in their head where they're living and reliving their time over there. This part of the film had to be very raw. Everything is about the words in the therapy room. And I wanted to shoot the therapy very, very close to their faces. So that we see not only them speaking about what they are going through in their minds, but also how their faces and their overall bodies are talking to us.

And the second part, which is the rear is whatever is not the front line. It is their life within the family, with their wives, kids, parents and the rest of the American society. For them, that part of their daily life is almost a fiction. It's not real. Because what is real is the front line in their mind. So to emphasize that, we shot with 35 millimeter lenses so that for the audience, although it's not said, unconsciously the audience has the feeling, this is kind of fiction.

I was not there to judge them. I was not there to judge the events in which they were involved. I was there because I wanted to hear from a man -- what was this experience? What is it to be young men, be sent to war, fight in the war, survive the war, and come back home with the war within? I sat in sessions for hours and I realized how much the therapy scene was a very creative one. Because that's the place where people are "inventing," quote-unquote, a story that will help them live with what happened. It's not that they're inventing in the sense of lying, but they're inventing in the sense that the story was never told before. And never told to themselves. So they have to create a narration that will help them live in the future with what happened. And if you see therapy as such a creative place, then you could imagine a camera being introduced in the therapy room. So when you make a film through therapy, the camera is there to participate in the invention of the story.

One very important thing, I think, is the acknowledgement, the validation of trauma through the presence of the camera. For most of these men, they live very much alone with their trauma. It is very important I think for each and every one of the guys that the story they're creating and that will be told through the process of cinema will help them in their daily life with their wives, their kids, their grandkids later, down the road or the community they belong to.

Sometimes, three months went by, six months went by, nine months, 18, 24. They had so much assimilated the camera with the therapeutic process, that even in the absence of the therapist, something else would happen within the family. They would use, unconsciously, the camera in order to say something to one another that they wouldn't say in their daily life. They would say it in a different way within the absence of a camera, they would say with anger, or with cries, with anything. But there, because the camera was there, they could use it. Not that they were acting, but there was something of a tension created by the presence of the camera that would help them process therapeutically.

These guys, they want to live. Although they were dying inside themselves, they want to survive. And the story of the film is a survival story. It's not on the battlefield, as we are used to seeing this kind of survival story. It's in the therapy room, that's where survival is happening.