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Iraq in Fragments
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Iraq in Fragments – Review


As the double-entendre of a title might suggest, this film presents us with fragments of life in post-Saddam Iraq.
In the first of three studies, we meet eleven year old orphan Mohammed, who works as an apprentice for a mechanic – his boss is at once supportive, exasperated and strict. As Mohammed struggles at school, the adults around him debate the state of the country, post-war.
Next, we spend time with radial Shi’ites in southern Iraq. They’re loyal to the cleric Moqtada al Sadr – the name shouted at Saddam Hussein by his tormentors as he stood on the gallows. Nevertheless, they don’t feel at all grateful to the Americans for ridding the country of Saddam. All they’re concerned about is beating anyone selling alcohol in the local market, as they endeavour to spread the word of Islam in its most fundamental form.
Finally we head north and follow a group of Kurds as they contemplate their newfound freedom from oppression.


Unusually for many of the documentaries we see on the subject, this film is very much descriptive rather than prescriptive – we have very few clues as to the motives of film-maker James Longley, who spent two years living in Iraq to put this film together.
His personal view, however, doesn’t stray far from the prevailing wind. He just believes that it’s so obvious that America shouldn’t have invaded Iraq, that there’s no point making a whole film just to say so. For him, a documentary is about showing the lives of ordinary people, not a platform to put across his own views.
In that sense, the film is a success – he has achieved remarkable access, in particular to the Shi’ite Muslims who you might not think would have taken too kindly to having an American following them with a camera, even as they were decrying the US invasion and complaining that although Saddam Hussein is gone, he’s been “replaced by a hundred Saddams.”
But in other senses, the fragments of the title could almost refer to the fact that the film itself doesn’t hang together as well as perhaps it could or should.
Following an eleven year old boy as he struggles to pull his life together in wartorn Iraq should be emotive, but it felt like similar stories to Mohammed’s could have been found in any school, anywhere in the world, where one pupil is struggling to learn to read and write.
The second and third segments, though, do give a powerful and – in the case of the Shi’ites – frightening insight into the problems of getting a democracy to rise out of the ashes of a dictatorship.
While the Kurds leave you with a sense of optimism, at the end of the film, it is nothing like enough to overturn the pessimism in which you’ll be wallowing at the point where we leave the Shi’ites. Their intransigence makes you feel that we’ll be watching news footage much like we see now for years to come.
But the most disconcerting – and perhaps disingenuous – thing about the film is its lack of context. It was filmed over a two year period, after the fall of Saddam’s regime, but the situation there changes so quickly that clues as to when each segment was shot would have been more honest – the suggestion appears to be “this is how the people of Iraq feel now.”
Perhaps they do, but unless we travel there ourselves, we don’t really know. Watching the news doesn’t help, as daily bulletins can’t hope to get as deep into the lives of the real Iraqis as this does.
It’s perhaps this depth and understanding of the people themselves that have propelled this fairly unremarkable and unstructured documentary to a much-coveted Oscar nomination.

Opens at the ICA and in key cities nationwide 19th January 2007



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