A Grammar of Pain

Jacqueline Feldman in Harvard Magazine:

OMAW_image_1_HD_copyright_AliceFilmsAs Of Men and War opens, a trumpet moans and won’t resolve into taps, and a van traps men who let it bounce them. They rarely come to town, they say. They are quick to road rage. They wear sunglasses. Later, one man tells his wife, “If we never had to leave the house, I’d be all right, but it’s going outside I can’t handle too much.” The French documentary (released in many U.S. cities this week after playing at theaters in France and at international festivals), follows veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan as they undergo trauma therapy at a residential center called Pathway Home, founded by therapist Fred Gusman. These characters are archetypal—“almost mythological”—says Isidore Bethel ’11, the head editor for the film and one of its associate producers: “These men could have served in any war.” Their transposition into an older pantheon of suffering is nimble. The contemporary term “PTSD” is used exactly twice, once by a vet guilt-tripping a too-persistent caller and then by another vet’s wife. Otherwise, no character mentions diagnoses or pills, only men and death and their closeness to it.

Of Men and War is the second film in Laurent Bécue-Renard’s series A Genealogy of Wrath. As a young man, the director spent several months in besieged Sarajevo for “purely romantic” reasons. He found the city’s high pitch catching and vaguely familiar. There, while writing news dispatches and short stories, he met a therapist who worked with war widows. He focused on three of these women for his first documentary, War-Wearied (2003). It dawned on him that a personal “quest” had drawn him to his project. His grandfathers served in the First World War, which killed some 1.7 million French, about 5 percent of the country’s population. “All of us who grew up in the second half of the twentieth century inherited the legacy of the wars in the first part of the twentieth century,” Bécue-Renard said. “It has been shaping the psyches of the families we belong to.”

More here.