Loach's Iraq war mercenaries attack Cannes
The murky world of private security contractors in Iraq was exposed on the big screen Wednesday as Britain's Ken Loach sent his latest film into battle for the top prize at Cannes.
"Route Irish," named after the most dangerous stretch of road in Iraq that leads from the airport to Baghdad's Green Zone, is the tale of two former soldiers from Liverpool who go to Iraq to earn big bucks working as hired guns.
One of them is killed in mysterious circumstances on Route Irish and his buddy, wracked by guilt, rejects the official explanation and tries to find out what really happened.
Loach, who scooped the top prize at Cannes in 2006 with a film about Ireland's fight for independence from British rule, is one of 19 directors vying for the Palme d'Or top prize to be handed out in Cannes on Sunday.
He has made a string of politically engaged films in his lengthy career and now with "Route Irish" uses the story of the two Liverpudlian contractors to illustrate and denounce the little-known world of private security in Iraq. Tens of thousands of former soldiers -- many from the US and British military -- signed up for lucrative security work in Iraq following the 2003 American-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
They enjoyed immunity from Iraqi law -- until early 2009 -- and were regularly accused of being trigger-happy mercenaries who casually killed Iraqi civilians who were rightly or wrongly thought to pose a security threat.
In one notorious case, five US men working for the American security firm Blackwater were accused of killing 14 unarmed Iraqis in 2007 and wounding 18 others in an attack using guns and grenades at a busy Baghdad square.
The case has become a running sore among the Iraqi population and sparked further uproar last year when a US judge dismissed charges against the guards.
"Route Irish" was mostly shot in a rainy Liverpool, where Fergus, played by Mark Womack in his first feature role, probes the death in a roadside bomb attack of his boyhood friend Frankie.
Fergus, who thanks to the large amounts of money he earned in Iraq now lives in a swanky apartment and drives a flash car, becomes increasingly remorseful at the part he played in the carnage in the war-torn country.
His and Frankie's time in Iraq is sketched out through a compromising mobile phone video and through sometimes heavy-handed use of flashbacks and television footage of the aftermath of bomb attacks.
The film seeks at every turn to tug at the viewer's heartstrings, its plot is largely predictable, and it rams home its message with sledgehammer bluntness.
The message is that war is bad, fat-cat business executives are rubbing their paws at the prospect of creaming off huge profits from privatised war, and that conflict brutalises even the good guys.
But it is a statement that Loach and his screenwriter Paul Laverty believe needs to be made as loudly and as often as possible.
"Order 17 may have been revoked in Iraq but its spirit still reigns supreme," Laverty wrote in the production notes.
Order 17, imposed in 2003 by the US administrator of Iraq, Paul Bremer, gave contractors total immunity from Iraqi law. It was revoked early last year.
"The stink of impunity, the lies, the contempt for international law, the undermining of the Geneva conventions, the secret prisons, the torture, the murder... the hundreds of thousands of dead," Laverty wrote.
© 2010 AFP