“It’s a horrible thing to watch your friend disappear forever within the confines of a body bag.”
That’s what one young man tells a group of other war veterans in a therapy session for vets with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s just one scene in the documentary “Of Men And War” that follows the lives of a handful of American soldiers dealing with PTSD at a treatment center in Napa Valley, Calif.
The men recount their stories, often with anger and tears in the eyes, trying to understand why they have returned from war differently and how its affecting them and their families. Director Laurent Becue-Renard talked with me about his film that took a decade to make.
Becue-Renard: The idea of this film has always been there. I grew up in a family where the question of the legacy of war was never addressed. Although, my grandfathers were World War I veterans, and my parents grew up during World War II, it seemed as if nothing had really happened. Since they had survived and weren't wounded, it was as if nothing should be addressed.
This film "Of Men And War" is the second chapter of an inquiry about what's the legacy of war? What's the psychological legacy of war?
Husted: How hard was it to get the veterans in the clinic to trust you enough to let you film them struggling through what's clearly one of the most difficult things they will ever deal with?
Becue-Renard: I showed them pictures of both my grandfathers -- when they were exactly their age coming back from World War I and about to start a family -- bearing the legacy of the war but burying it. This was something they could understand pretty easily because those who had kids already knew that they were passing on the effects of the trauma to the next generation. So to have someone like me coming from a third generation telling them: yes. Two generations later people are still carrying the legacy of their grandfathers because it was never addressed. That was something they could grasp.
I think the camera played a huge role in the sessions for each and every one of the guys who are in the film. Mostly because it's acknowledging and validating from an outsider point of view that something has happened to them. And yes it has made them whom they have become.
Husted: What do you hope the audience takes away from this film?
Becue-Renard: A lot of the young soldiers I've met over the course of the past 10 years told me that when they come back there are parades and people thank them for their service. But what they feel is that people don't get it. There is never a way they can come back to place they were before. The man who went to war is never to come back.
The journey in the postwar context is a life long journey of trying to find a new way of living, to learn what man they have become and to figure out how to live with that man.
Warning: Graphic language in the trailer below.