Film-Forward Review: [IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS]

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A Kurdish boy, with brick-making ovens in the background
Photo: Typecasting Releasing

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Directed, Camera & Music by: James Longley.
Produced by: John Sinno & Longley.
Edited by: Billy McMillin, Fiona Otway & Longley.
Released by: Typecast Releasing in association with HBO Documentary Films.
Language: Arabic & Kurdish with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: USA. 94 min. Not Rated.

Impressions of Iraq is more like it. Assuming the country’s eventually partitioning, director James Longley splits the country into three perspectives: Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd. Not strictly cinema vérité, the sped-up sequences, jump cuts, and the rapid-fire editing convey a sense of chaos, as if that’s necessary. One of the film’s most compelling sequences occurs as the camera simply records an incident of Iraqi street justice – a market rampage, in which the Mehdi Army, the masked militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, search for, club, and then kidnap venders for selling alcohol.

But much of what is captured will be familiar for viewers of Frontline or other recent documentaries. The closest to a vivid representation, rather than a generalization, is seen in the bookending segments. In the first, shy eleven-year-old Mohammed provides for his mother and grandmother as the errand boy and mechanic for a despotic father figure. His real father, a police lieutenant, has been missing since Saddam Hussein was still in power. Four years behind other kids his age in school, he barely reads and writes. In his quavering voiceover, the boy professes he is loved by his boss. After all, he doesn’t beat him, but this assumption is steadily undermined.

In the rural Kurdish North, Longley follows another pre-teen boy, the blond Suleiman, who wants to be doctor. Far removed from the daily skirmishes, Suleiman seems intimated by the demands of school, and like Mohammed, abandons his education so he can work full-time as a shepherd and brick maker. The film relies on both of boys’ points of view, but because they are only kids, they don’t have the perspective or the detachment to offer a broader view of their lives or Iraq’s future. Besides Suleiman’s elderly father, no other family members are shown.

Since the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, two other documentaries have stolen its thunder. The Blood of My Brother, as in Fragment’s second segment, includes startling behind-the-scenes footage in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City. Laura Poitras’ My Country, My Country, recently seen on the PBS series P.O.V., offers much more complexity on daily Iraqi life than either film – a doctor runs for city council, despite death threats, during the 2005 national vote. His political party, however, eventually boycotts the election. He also gets no rest at home from his strongly opinionated wife and teenage daughters. Curiously, there are very few women in Fragments. Perhaps accessibility was hindered by Longley’s gender. There’s one exception – a Kurdish poll worker telling illiterate voters to mark down on their ballot #135 for the Kurdish party. Democracy, Iraqi style. Kent Turner
November 8, 2006



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