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Questioning the apolitical status of Afghanstan doc “Restrepo.”

Questioning the apolitical status of Afghanstan doc “Restrepo.” (photo)

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Since its buzz-packed Sundance debut, “Restrepo” has (rightfully) became the key documentary about either the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. A year’s worth of embedded combat footage is something no one else has equaled, and “Restrepo” is as visceral a piece of war coverage we’ve had yet.

It’s also been touted — both by critics and its makers — as an “apolitical” film, which is (presumably) an adjective of praise rather than just a descriptive one. In the documentary world, strongly opinionated reportorial footage is always perilously close to being dismissed as propaganda, so it’s either objectivity or propaganda critics can get behind.

Depending on who’s talking, the dividing line’s tricky: is “The Fog of War” an overly sympathetic portrait of Robert MacNamara, or does it just provide the rope with which MacNamara hangs himself? Is “An Inconvenient Truth” an accurate portrait of the future with some slight exaggerations, or is it unreliable agitprop?

Unlike the straightforward indictment of “Standard Operating Procedure,” “Restrepo” provides nothing to help orient you ideologically. It’s hard to get much of a read out of it, unless you want to view its final title cards — informing you the hard-fought area was lost anyway after the 173rd battalion withdrew — as a backhanded comment on the war’s futility. Either way, it’s just a matter of the record on the surface.

07062010_restrepo.jpgDepending on who you talk to, that lack of politicized footage can be a liability either from a liberal or conservative perspective. For Big Peace (the newest in Andrew Breitbart’s right-leaning empire), Ret. Brigadier General Anthony J. Tata couldn’t be more thrilled, expressing no doubt the film’s “100% accurate”: “Some may even question our purpose in Afghanistan,” he concedes. “But no one can walk away from this distinctly apolitical film and question the bravery of our troops in combat.”

Big Hollywood‘s Mark Tapson, meanwhile, gently chastises the film for ignoring context and failing to make the case for “an apocalyptic death match for the future of humanity.” For Rope of Silicon‘s Bill Cody, the fact that Junger’s been advocating for more troops on the ground in recent interviews means he’s actually made pro-war propaganda that’s been disguised as an apolitical look at the war.

It is a credit to the film’s ambitions to be at least perceived as apolitical that it can drive three people into such different ideological readings. A better question, though, is which of three hypothetical films would be best: a conservative-minded film that used combat footage to make the best possible case for ongoing conflict, a strictly neutral film whose goal is to archive for the future a representative visual sample of what contemporary warfare feels like, or a liberal indictment that uses battle footage to argue for the necessity of withdrawal?

Your political inclinations will direct your answer — but why should a hypothetical film with no ideological slant not be as valuable as a record in the long run as an actual polemic? “Restrepo”: an Rorschach blot of a documentary:

[Photos: “Restrepo,” National Geographic, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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