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," the name the US military gave to the most dangerous stretch of road in Iraq from the airport to Baghdad's Green Zone, is the tale of 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.
The 73-year-old has made a string of politically engaged films in his long career and with "Route Irish" uses a story of 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, uncovers ever deepening levels of duplicity and corruption as he probes why and how his boyhood friend died.
Fergus, who thanks to the large amounts of money he made in Iraq now lives in a fashionable apartment and drives an expensive 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 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 and it rams home its message with a sledgehammer.
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.
It is a statement that Loach and his screenwriter Paul Laverty, whose film gets a red carpet gala screening here on Thursday, 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," he wrote.
© 2010 AFP