Iraq in Fragments

"Excellent"

Iraq in Fragments Review


A story of Iraq told in tones both wondrous and horrible, Iraq in Fragments is a stunning portrait of a country trying to pull itself back together after the system shock of the American invasion -- sometimes succeeding, often not. A compilation of three stories dealing with, respectively, the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, James Longley's unique vision benefits from its multiplicity of viewpoints, ruminating on its characters' lives instead of encapsulating them into some larger thesis. Although as informative as the best non-fiction film, this is less a documentary than a ravishingly photographed visual poem, one in which helicopters eternally buzz overhead and there is always a column of smoke climbing into the sky from some point in the distance.

Longley spent two years immediately following the 2003 invasion amassing over 300 hours of footage, which he whittled down into this short, sharp narrative. The amount of time he spent in the vicinity of his subjects is almost instantly clear, as they act as though he isn't even there. Longley's camera floats through the crowded city streets and amid the knots of people like an observing ghost, insinuating itself into the action without leaving even a ripple. This is especially true in the first segment, "Mohammed of Baghdad," a Dickensian slice of life following a poor 11-year-old who's apprenticed himself to a cruel shop owner who alternately threatens to fire him for leaving to go to school and then berates him for not learning how to read. Mohammed's narration speaks plaintively of pre-invasion Iraq, its beauty and calm -- for contrast with the chaotic present of trash-strewn streets, Longley includes his own footage shot in Baghdad before the war -- while the old men in the shop complain bitterly of the present-day entropy: "Today is better than tomorrow."

The most disturbing element of the film is the second, "Sadr's South," which inserts Longley's camera into the Shia enclave of Naseriyah. We're privy to the denunciatory speeches and passionate demonstrations, all fomented by Moqtada al-Sadr (whom Longley seemed to be able to get closer access to than just about any other Western filmmaker or journalist) as he agitated for more political power in the shifting sands of a new democracy. In a Taliban-like spasm of fundamentalist repression, Sadr's masked gunmen go tearing through the marketplace, beating and "arresting" merchants they claim were selling alcohol. The hot mess of it all, with the fervid proselytizing and never-ending agitation for violent action, gives one a neatly effective visual definition of what happens when Pandora's box is opened.

Not far away in the north of Iraq -- a place that might as well be a different country, and to its residents, basically is -- is a setting of comparative calm and tranquility: Kurdistan. "Kurdish Spring" is the least structured of the film's three stories, following a young boy who desperately works and pines for good grades in school so he can become a doctor. Compared with the intense ferment of the Sunni and Shite areas further south, the Kurdish region is calm, controlled, and quite happy, all in all, about the invasion. While men grousing in Baghdad during the first segment all believe that the invasion was simply the U.S. making a naked grab for their oil supplies -- the Kurds in the last story are quite clear about their happiness over the U.S. delivering them from Saddam, one of them saying, "The future of Iraq will be in three pieces." It's the most gorgeous and strangely (given how much better things are going here than elsewhere) melancholic of pieces, all sharp-hued sunsets and ravishing vistas. Longley isn't trying to instill a sense of hope here, though, just as the previous segments weren't designed to push a viewpoint -- these are but lives presented as simply as possible, and often on their subjects' own terms. It's a cliché, but the thing that Iraq in Fragments does best is to show that in the midst of a chaotic occupation and insurgency, life does go on; in a fashion.

What Iraq in Fragments manages is to take the rather banal assertion that even in the midst of a chaotic occupation and insurgency, life does go on, and turns it into something quite the opposite of banal.

Don't go to pieces on us.



Iraq in Fragments

Facts and Figures

Run time: 94 mins

In Theaters: Friday 19th January 2007

Box Office Worldwide: $202 thousand

Distributed by: Typecast

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 59 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: James Longley

Producer: John Sinno, James Longley

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