In ‘This Is Not a War Story’ the storm has passed for war veterans, but the calm holds an often unrecognized violence.
Directed by: Talia Lugacy.
Starring: Talia Lugacy, Danny Ramirez, Sam Adegoke, P.J. Boudousqué, Brian Delate, Brian Faherty, Holly Horner, Patrick Stoffer, Jeff Camp, Randolph Hubard, Kevin Basl, Jan Barry, Eli Wright, Neil Duffy.
Country: United States.
Running time: 113 minutes.
After credits rolled on This Is Not a War Story (yes I always watch the credit and this time they repowered the film’s exclamation point with a fantastic song), I immediately started typing about the film’s anti war message, and how valid it is after decades. My excitement was almost unrelenting. After a few minutes I noticed how I strayed away from something essential in the film: the silent and necessary contemplation when another element is part of a larger expression. I took a few breaths and entered the conversation Talia Lugacy started. It wasn’t necessary to see the film again (I mean for writing the review, This Is Not a War Story deserves a second viewing even if it feels hard to watch). I just thought again of those blank stares, the infinite burdens, and our roles in this whole matter. We need to stop and listen.
An unavoidable affirmation of truth
In This Is Not a War Story, Talia Lugacy tells a particular story that’s not more important than those that surround it. She just channels one of the millions of stories that need to be told. A group of war veterans spend their days dealing with the aftermath of war (or wars for that matter). They gather in a building and turn old military uniforms into handmade paper. Their trauma is not so visible, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering from the effects of events that took place decades ago.
Isabelle (also Lugacy in a starring role) is a newcomer. She shyly arrives to the group and becomes part of the team. Isabelle develops a friendship with Will, another member of the team who’s suffering from a recent event involving suicide. Their bond is not as healing as it sounds. They’re both part of a system that’s filled with unacknowledged guilt and repressed angst. Sometimes, surviving is not as easy as coming back unharmed.
The volatile awareness of secondary victims
Films about war trauma are not uncommon. We’ve seen tons of them, and they tend to share an outcome and a message. However, This Is Not a War Story goes deeper into the ubiquitous layer of war veterans. The film focuses on two very compelling stories, but the script also glances at the rest, the ones whose stories are not as dramatic as a film would depict. It helps that This Is Not a War Story features a cast of real veterans who give their heart and soul telling stories in the background. Each of them holds an injury, physical or emotional, and through a very dynamic backdrop the film tells their story.
Isabella and Will’s story is an engrossing recital of truths, shame and moral dilemmas. Even though they can be part of the winning side, and they admit to being culprits of a larger battle, nobody can deny they’re also victims. They don’t have scars or injuries. Nevertheless, their words and cries hold a different truth.
The sad universality of war and its loud consequences
Lugacy’s statement goes way beyond the artistic element of the film’s theme. That process of making paper holds a palliating significance that’s more helpful than we care to acknowledge. Going deeper seems invasive, but Lugacy holds secrets in Isabella’s character that we come to know right at the end. When we think her conclusion can hold peace, an invitation into her home and values confirms a rotten level that could explain her behavior. There’s a mystery in Isabella’s resolution, and that violent randomness is a punch to the gut that’s not easy to recover from.