Iraq in Fragments
Iraq in Fragments is an absolutely stunning documentary. Director James Longley crafts a three-part story that is so closely linked to fictional narrative technique that it is hard to imagine it as unstaged.
The first part is aligned around a fatherless 11-year-old boy, Mohammed Haithem, who lives in Baghdad. The second part centers around a religious leader in Moqtada Sadr’s Shiite following. The third part hovers among sheepherders in Kurdistan. This narrative structure is reflected in a line delivered by an elderly man in the final section: “Iraq will be cut into three pieces.”
Fragmented shots animate the first section, injecting the viewers into the fragmented world that is modern-day Iraq. Longley avoids traditional documentary technique by skipping interviews all together. Barely anyone addresses the camera directly, and the result is an injection of hyper-realism. Embodying an admirable sense of creativity, he uses the voices of the Iraqis themselves to poetically inform the viewer of the issues facing Iraq – mostly in a slowly-paced, disembodied melodic tone – and combines them with stunning visuals. For instance, as Mohammed’s voice is heard, the viewer is given an extreme close-up of an eye, which Longley will then transpose with a ceiling fan, exemplifying the spinning mind of the child as he comprehends his war-torn country. Utilizing such masterful aesthetic qualities, Iraq’s position is expressed in a challenging and complex manner. Longley captures those voices who are marginalized and voiceless in today’s mediated world.
The viewer is aligned with Mohammed first, who works for a car mechanic. Despite having been in school for five years, Mohammed has still not passed the first grade. Although we hear him say his boss loves him, the scenes reflect a kind of oppression familiar to dictatorships. Through Mohammed, the viewer is able to linger around the garage and listen to what the older men say as they carry on about the newly-occupied Iraq. It becomes apparent that, while they feel one oppressor is gone, another much worse oppressor has replaced it. These mechanics are working class, and they make it explicitly clear that this war is not helping the poor. The only one’s who will benefit are the rich. Longley is continually able to capture these types of conversations almost as if unobserved.
Following the aformentioned old man’s prophecy about Iraq’s fragmentation, a young boy states, “You cannot cut Iraq into pieces. Iraq is a country.” The youth’s reaction stands as a commentary on the future of the country. The film asks the viewer to question just what will happen to Iraq and its people in so fragmented a world.
Longley very quietly implicates his American audience. Whether one is for or against the war, whether one hates or loves Bush, the undeniable point of Longley’s film is the fragmentation of a country and what the implications are of America’s role in it. The film is presented from the perspective of the Iraqis; and because of this, it reveals the inherent sense of fragmentation that occurs when a country is occupied by an outside force. It is the story of oppression. As an American witnessing one’s own country as the cause of that oppression, the result is truly troubling. For me – with friends in the army, many of whom have served in Iraq – seeing soldiers portrayed as an imperial force in Iraq is frightening.
Watching Iraq in Fragments is to be confronted with the issues of the voiceless Iraqi people. The film forces spectators to re-examine their stance on the war and re-engage in a debate that seems squashed by American indifference. The film acts as a reminder of the problem at hand, and will most likely turn indifference into reflection.
© 2006 Myles David Jewell. All rights reserved.
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