By Nicole Horowitz
Director Laurent Bécue-Renard has directed a quiet yet chilling documentary “Of Men and War” that opens this Friday, Nov. 13. A premiere will be held at the Laemmle in West Los Angeles.
The film tells the story of combat veterans who left their combat tours, only to return home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Bécue-Renard captures the pain, and the confusion of what it means to be a veteran utterly changed from war back on civilian soil. The film does a phenomenal job at expressing the side of living life as a veteran adjusting without judgment or moralization.
What drew Bécue-Renard to direct this movie was due to the lasting effects of war in the western world, from the two world wars forward.
The exploration of the psyche of a veteran was never talked about or discussed in a family setting. What little was known was proven to be traumatic. Bécue-Renard went into filming the documentary with the idea that “the war has shaped the identity not only of the person fighting and their family, but of the world in the first half of the century.”
“What little was spoken of it was transferred via experience and not spoken,” Bécue-Renard explains of what drew him to create such a movie. His own personal life was affected by war: his grandparents fought in World War 1, and were the same age as the veterans in the movie. As a result, this documentary has a personal touch to it, thus adding an extra textured layer to the subject.
The creation of the documentary was no light feat.
It was a “very long term project,” according to Bécue-Renard, as it took more than 10 years to create (this project started in early 2004).
There was plenty of scouting and meeting a lot of veterans, with their families, wives and even kids. Therapists were included in this process.
Bécue-Renard meticulously and thoroughly underwent the challenge of understanding the veteran’s experience of war related trauma via research. Many months were spent filming at a residential facility/halfway house for veterans, which wasn’t in existence until much later. There was an enormous amount of footage by the end: filming ended up covering 500 hours of material.
The process behind creating this documentary was innovative because of the execution. He embedded a camera in the veteran’s therapy sessions, which he believed added a layer of creativity to the project. This way of viewing allowed the audience to experience the therapy sessions alongside the veterans. The veterans “know they are telling this story for the first time; it is a difficult process to cope with.”
“Therapy is a creative scene: this is where people create the story a narrative to live with what happened,” he explains of his technique.
However, Bécue-Renard worried about how the veterans would feel to opening up with a camera. He worried that any day of filming could be the last. The therapy sessions, as explained by the words of the veterans, explained the truth of the experience that the veterans faced, Bécue-Renard explained.
This film process had therapeutic value for both the veterans and the audience viewing the documentary. It is important for traumatized veterans to find ways to understand and make bonds with the outside world, as it is lonely for them transitioning into civilian life. Only the veterans could know the truth of the events that took place. For the veterans, seeing the movie for the first time gave the veterans a story that has a meaning; before the movie, all they had was chaos.
The most important theme of this movie primarily focuses on the strength of life.
“These guys are survivors: their experience shows us how these young men have been destroyed kept surviving,” Bécue-Renard explains. Knowing that these veterans are in the process of creating a narrative helps them survive. As a result, this gives lots of hope for viewers. The analysis of a legacy left behind lets the audience understand.
For more information, visit www.ofmenandwar.com.