By John Messer, E23 Reporter

One of the more compelling films at the 2018 True/False Film Fest was Miles Lagoze’s “Combat Obscura.” What sets “Obscura” apart is its composition. Director Lagoze recorded the majority of the footage between 2011 and 2012 during his deployment in Afghanistan as a U.S. Marine cameraman. The film is entirely composed of his footage and audio from his time in the field. Nothing is recreated, nothing is staged and the result is a film as raw as it is effective.

“Combat Obscura” is constructed and presented as a loose collection of vignettes portraying the life of an American soldier in Afghanistan. Each vignette tells its own story, but when the collection is taken as a whole, the viewer is left with a distinct impression of the way of life for Marines.

In the Q and A after the True/False screening, Lagoze said that his goal with the film wasn’t to paint the situation or the soldiers in any particular light. He simply wanted to show it as truthfully as possible.

The film does a marvelous job blending the vignettes together in meaningful ways. In some places, there is contrast, with a cut from the soldiers singing and relaxing followed by a firefight. In others, we get comparisons, such as a transition from happy soldiers drinking and partying to soldiers who are excited about being in combat.

The transitions aren’t just in the form of cuts either. Clever sound bridges keep the audience tense in the quiet scenes, when gunfire creeps into the calm moments. In minor but powerful ways, on and offscreen sound drives home the always guarded mindset of the battlefield.

By far, the most effective moments are the one-on-one interviews with the soldiers. When they slow down and are asked specific questions, without distractions from the adrenaline of combat or the bliss of recreation, you feel the simple emotion in their answers. It isn’t complicated. They’re people. This only works when placed in context with the death and celebration in the rest of the film. Given this context, these interviews hit hard.

“Combat Obscura” leaves an impression. More than many documentaries manage, it feels real and unbiased. This was what life was like there, told to the audience with no other agenda. It’s up to the viewer to come up with any conclusions or reflections because the film forces none.

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