How to Fold a Flag -- Film Review

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"How to Fold a Flag," a well-intentioned documentary by the makers of two other superb films about Iraq, "Gunnar Palace" and "The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair," concerns the multiple difficulties that afflict combat troops returning from Iraq. It's always fully professional, eminently watchable, well-shot, and beautifully edited, but unfortunately, it covers a subject that is also very well-worn.

Ostensibly about the soldiers' treatment after they return from the war, which would have been something fresh, the film all too easily -- if understandably -- slides over into questions about the stupidity of the war itself and the reprehensibility of the leaders who illegitimately put us there. The film recounts the stories of four men, all of whom served together in Iraq: an African-American slaughterhouse employee from North Carolina whose mother dies from cancer; a former officer running for Congress in New York state; a member of a heavy-metal band who works in a fast-food restaurant; and a completely depressed Latino cage fighter from Texas who is unable to find anyone to help him. Multiple particular details emerge from these stories that once again attest to the variety of human, and specifically American, experience.

Each story is tragic, and inevitably horribly unjust as well, but much of the injustice that results seems endemic to American society as it is presently organized, and has little to do with the Iraq war itself. This is not necessarily a fault, of course, but the result is that a lot of the legitimate griping that surfaced during the Bush years is rehashed yet once more, still unaccompanied by any solutions other than more hand-wringing.

The documentary's clearest and most damning focus is on the Army's -- and society's -- irrational demand that these young men (and women), who have seen and participated in such horrible things, instantly become "normal" when they return home. What we need now, perhaps, is a hard-hitting film that focuses relentlessly on the lasting psychological damage that has reportedly afflicted tens of thousands of these returning troops.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Directors: Michael Tucker, Petra Epperlein
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