The veterans on camera in Laurent Bécue-Renard’s up-close documentary “Of Men and War” wear sunglasses a lot, outside and inside the Pathway Home, a post-traumatic stress disorder treatment center in Yountville, Calif. That you can’t always see their eyes, though, doesn’t mean that you won’t feel the pain emanating from their pores.
Haunted by experiences in Iraq that cling to them like an unwashable scent, these soul-wounded warriors sit in group therapy and talk about their broken lives with profane, bracing honesty: the anger they can’t hold back, the scared spouses who want to leave them, the anxiety that freezes them, the embarrassment they can’t process.
The access that Bécue-Renard got, reportedly after five months of being there without a camera, is remarkable, and it extends from those sometimes cathartic, occasionally brittle sessions with the therapist to post-graduation scenes at home with the loved ones who are still around.
Bécue-Renard, following the vérité documentary style, refrains from identifying the men with on-screen text, save the times they refer to one another by name on camera, and the effect is shrewd. It serves to present what these veterans go through as less a spotlight on one corner of the war and a few of its sufferers, but something systemic we all should be thinking about.
“Of Men and War”
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle’s Monica 4, Santa Monica.