Antiwar movies tell all at Toronto film fest

Many of the films screened at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival reflected the realities of death and destruction caused by wars around the globe.

The genocidal war in Rwanda was represented by yet another screen portrayal, this time featuring Canadian Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire (Roy Dupuis) in “Shake Hands with the Devil.” One of the worst ongoing world tragedies is depicted in the powerful documentary “Darfur Now.”

But the majority of films in this class addressed the war and occupation of Iraq. “Redacted,” which is the term used for the lines blacked out in government reports, is a major statement by one of the world’s great directors, Brian de Palma. An extremely provocative and effective portrayal of American soldiers gone bad, the film follows the daily patrols in the harsh streets of Samarra.

The film is as much a statement on how the media covers war as anything else. A French television crew and its reports are interspersed throughout the film. “Redacted” shows how war corrupts everyone involved.

The brutal rape of a young Iraqi girl and the murder of her family, taken straight from current news headlines, is agonizingly portrayed as the American soldiers involved in the crime are forced to deal with the reality of becoming monsters as they try to survive. This film will not be easy to forget.

Famous documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield goes for the real thing, but in dramatic form this time. “Battle for Haditha” attempts to recreate the notorious revenge killings that grabbed the headlines. Four Marines were charged with killing 24 innocent Iraqi civilians as they rampaged against the death of another Marine by a roadside bomb. Once again, the rules of social morality are compromised by the brutalities of war, and everyone is the victim.

In a surprise act of filmmaking, the popular former talk show host, Phil Donahue, brings an important story to the screen. Probably sensing the growing limitations of getting anything of substance on television, Donahue produced “Body of War,” the story of Tomas Young, one of the first Iraqi vets to speak out against the war. Enlisting just days after 9/11, Young is seriously wounded and paralyzed in his first week of duty. His life has instantly turned into a physical and medical nightmare.

Along the journey of becoming an activist, Young meets Cindy Sheehan, is interviewed on “60 Minutes,” and meets a handful of Washington politicians. This personal and poignant story, which starts with his marriage to a young loving woman and shows the eventual strains his physical condition puts on that marriage, ends up being a powerful antiwar statement.

A cinematic treat for those who struggle against war, “Battle in Seattle” is a testament to all those people, young and old, that take to the streets to change the world. Set in Seattle during the first WTO meeting, and consequently the first anti-WTO protests, the drama reveals the lack of the city’s government’s preparation in dealing with the protests compared to the disciplined approach of the marchers.

The film, directed by Ireland’s Stuart Townsend, starts with a dizzying shot of protesters hanging a sign from a huge crane. Townsend’s real-life wife, Charlize Theron, stars as the wife of a Seattle policeman being trained to “control” the potential chaos from the protesters.

During his daily encounters, the policeman comes to suspect that some of the violent anarchists who opt to vandalize and destroy property might be planted by the police so they can pin charges on the protesters. The film covers organizing meetings on both sides of the “battle,” and the protesters are portrayed as real human beings driven by a worthy cause.

The French are dealing with their own legacy of torture committed during the Algerian War. In “Intimate Enemies,” a young French lieutenant is faced with the moral choice of defending one’s country or allowing the indigenous population their rightful freedom. The film drops us into the dusty mountainside of Algeria in the 1950s, and we are quickly reminded of the perilous path of torture that the French occupiers chose to take.

The film’s implications for today — particularly as it relates to the U.S. government’s use of using torture — are quite profound.

Addressing another side of Algerian history, “Algeria, Unspoken Stories” attempts to answer the question why over a million French Algerians fled after the war for independence. In personal, previously untold stories, the film reveals how people who once lived together in harmony, regardless of religion or cultural differences, are torn apart and made enemies as a result of war.