REDACTED Written and directed by Brian De Palma, with Rob Devaney, Ty Jones and Izzy Diaz. A Maximum Films release. 90 minutes. Opens Friday (November 16). Rating: NNNN
Brian De Palma's redacted begins with a title that describes it as the documentation of a fictional incident. Which is true, and it's a tricky bit of legalese. It's also a bizarre epistomological construct: documentation of a fictional event makes the film, a raw war story, sound a bit like an elaborate piece of performance art.
Sitting in his hotel room during the Toronto Film Festival, freshly jetlagged from the Venice Festival, De Palma is not amused.
"Thank you, HDNet lawyers. I'm trying to make people think this is reality, and they're forcing me to tell people it's fictional. I'm going to that just as soon as possible."
"What is real?" is one of those questions that has haunted movies for the past decade or so. As the idea that "seeing is believing" becomes less and less reliable, it's a question that's increasingly worth asking.
"With the advent of reality TV, if people believe that's real, then you can make anything seem like it's real, even if it's completely fabricated. Redacted makes a point of showing you the puppet master at work, but you're going to believe the story anyway."
Films by major Hollywood directors can take years to get into production, but Redacted fell into place in a remarkably short time.
"It all happened here in Toronto at a workshop at the Festival. I was approached by HDNet, who said they'd give me $5 million to shoot anything I wanted as long as we shot it in high-def.
"Then I discovered this incident in Iraq that was so similar to Casualties Of War (in which a squad of soldiers during the Vietnam War kidnap a woman villager) that I had to find a different way to tell the story. Searching the Web, I found these brand new expressions from soldiers, their wives, insurgent websites, montages of casualties.
"It seemed that this was the way to tell it, the way it was speaking to me from the Internet. I decided to use the digital reality of the event. The irony is that I couldn't use any of the real material, because there were cases being prosecuted, so the lawyers and the company made me fictionalize everything."
One of the most interesting things about Redacted is the acting. Unlike classical movie performing, which pretends the camera isn't there, a style that enforces the naturalistic illusion, the characters in Redacted are always on camera within the world of the film, and they know they are. They're acting as people performing for cameras.
"Television is essentially a merchandising device. When you're on television, you're essentially selling something, whether it's your movie or a point of view or just some product. It affects your behaviour. With these characters, it's not just that they're being recorded, it's that they know they're being recorded and they're playing to the camera."
So what does Brian De Palma like to watch?
"A lot of C-Span and BookTV. I'm fascinated by reality shows. The fact that people continue to believe in them just amazes me. I watch some dramas because they give you ideas about actors, and I watch classic movies with my daughters."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
De Palma on why he's never done a DVD commentary track:
De Palma on the influential final scene in Carrie:
REDACTED (Brian De Palma)Rating: NNNN
The strangest thing about the current spate of Iraq War movies is that, as films that wear their political liberalism on their sleeve, they are so aesthetically conservative. The exception is Brian De Palma's Redacted, which arrives with the best-director prize from Venice in its pocket.
De Palma sees the war as a conflict in which most of the participants seem to have their own camera. Redacted could have been a classically constructed drama about a company of American soldiers who rape an Iraqi teenager and kill her family, but instead it looks like a found assemblage of everyone's personal footage: minicams, phone cams, blog posts, surveillance cameras, even a French documentary on the war. All of it was created for the film.
On one level, it's a postmodern remake of De Palma's Vietnam picture, Casualties Of War. On another, like most of his best films, it's a study of perception in the guise of a drama.