Friday, July 04, 2014
"Korengal": Sebastian Junger continues his story of this hidden valley in Afghanistan (following "Restrepo")
Sebastian Junger has followed up his previous work with “Korengal”, another documentary about the daily lives of US Army soldiers defending that valley in Afghanistan, as a sequel to “Restrepo” (reviewed July 10, 2010).
This film is a little shorter (84 minutes) and is quite succinct. The men visit the Afghan villages, jerry-built in layers of masonry and lumber in levels into the hillsides, and visit the tribal meetings. They have no pretensions about what they can accomplish. At 9000 feet, they get winded on long climbs.
Life in their own camp is grim, but relatively secure. When new men arrive, they get shot at in transit. The Taliban seems almost as invisible as the Vietcong had been decades before. And as Bob Woodward had pointed out in a different documentary for PBS, this is very much “Obama’s War” (March 29, 2010 on the TV blog).
The men look roughshod by gentry standards. They’re always adding tattoos, and are not above shaving body parts to make room for them. The live in clapboard conditions, but seem to have computer games and sometimes Internet.
The percentage of black soldiers in airborne units is less than that for the Army as a whole, one black soldier notes. But there are also some Latinos. There were no females.
Several of the men say that their main motivation comes from belonging to the group and watching each other’s back. The military calls this “unit cohesion”. The men say that they need their units as much as they need their families. This dichotomy within the personality is hard for me to grasp. There is a little bit of homoerotic horseplay in one scene, and the “fa” word gets used just once. But this film may have made the strongest statement ever about “unit cohesion” for its own sake and what it means to the men.
The official site is here Goldcrest pictures).
I saw this late July 3 at Landmark E Street in Washington, before a small audience.