Review: Memorial Day

Memorial Day
5 10

PLOT: A group of soldiers work hard and play hard - in extreme fashion - on and off the battlefield.

REVIEW: It's difficult to review MEMORIAL DAY without opening a whole can of wartime-debate worms, or making it a forum for my own thoughts on the touchy subjects it tackles, but I'll try. Formulating an opinion on the film itself is tough enough, as it is neither documentary, nor narrative, nor art-film. I guess it can be called "experimental", but that implies a weirdness that MEMORIAL DAY doesn't possess. Whatever it is, it's hard to ignore.

MEMORIAL DAY opens with a series of blurry "Girls Gone Wild"esque videos displaying young party animals at their most obnoxious and incoherent. We've seen this kind of stuff before: Borish dudes yelling at the camera; hot girls yelling and flashing; drunken dancing; copious alcohol consumed as if prohibition were about to be reinstated. We follow, if that word is accurate, a small group as they're seemingly just getting acquainted with each other, going from a beach party to a hotel for more drinking and babbling (along the way, a borderline-rape takes place in the van that transports them, although this incident is hardly remarked upon).

Shockingly, none of this is real - it's a BORAT-like fake, with this small group of people (really the director's theater troupe) inserting themselves into the rabble and "acting" amidst the real bedlam - quite convincingly, too. The camera is suitably unfocused and bouncy (which is not to say it's not irritating at the same time) and the "characters" are credible as the dopey, slurring stereotypes of the uninhibited imbeciles which are created during spring break in these party towns (in this case, Ocean City, Maryland). The soundtrack is alternately trance/trip-hoppy and solemn, almost funereal. It's unnerving, yet knowing it's not real keeps you at arms length...

It turns out the the drunken revelers are actually soldiers on leave. Without missing a beat - at about the 30 min. mark - we're suddenly in Iraq, joining our lovable weekend warriors as they patrol Iraq, pass the time in an Abu Ghraib-like prison and yes, watch over detained prisoners, frequently dragging them out of their cells to be openly mocked and shamed. Sequences replicating Iraq home invasions and the humiliation photos we're now so familiar with (naked human pyramid, anyone?) are just as realistic as the Spring Break videos; the you-are-there aesthetic is accomplished very well. And while it never gets to the point where you have to look away from the screen (although my stomach is stronger than some), it's fairly skin-crawling stuff...

In an engrossing scene, a soldier reads off a list of torture techniques suggested to him from a government letter and his reaction switches between excited one second, depressed the next. Other characters don't appear to be at such a moral crossroads - they photograph their deeds as a testament to "what they had to do for their country". If they (meaning the characters here, and the soldiers at Abu Ghraib) were just following orders, why did it seem like they had so much fun doing it? Can the constant pressure - not to mention stifling redundancy - of war ever be an excuse for the kind of grotesque acts the soldiers are "told to" engage in? Fox doesn't seem to have the answers, he's just showing us what (he thinks) happened...

He does it well. Taken at face value, Fox has created a very vivid portrait of people feeding off their own excesses, and while it may be hard to watch, it's not easy to forget.


MEMORIAL DAY opens Wednesday in New York. Visit the Official Site HERE.

Source: AITH



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