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With: Mohammed Haithem, Suleiman Mahmoud, Sheik Aws al-Khafaji
Written by: n/a
Directed by: James Longley
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Kurdish, Arabic, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 93
Date: 01/21/2006

Iraq in Fragments (2006)

3 Stars (out of 4)

The Shard Way

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

For the curious and informed moviegoer, an ample supply of Iraq documentaries has flowed through movie theaters over the past three years: Fahrenheit 9/11, Control Room, Gunner Palace, Uncovered: The War on Iraq, Why We Fight, The Ground Truth, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, The War Tapes and My Country, My Country. Even the newly restored and released Winter Soldier (1972) provided striking parallels between the Vietnam War and the current conflict. For the most part, these films explore the way in which Americans perceive and are affected by the conflict. But James Longley's Oscar-nominated film Iraq in Fragments, stands apart.

It starts by telling the story of Iraq from three non-American points of view. The first section, set in a Sunni neighborhood, introduces 11 year-old Mohammed Haithem, who works as an auto mechanic's assistant and sporadically goes to school. His wistful narration blatantly ignores what we actually see on screen; Mohammed praises his boss for his compassion, but the boss treats the boy with sadistic haranguing. Sometimes Longley allows us to overhear the boss' conversations with a few locals ("why don't they just take the oil and leave," one says of the American occupiers).

The second segment documents a Shiite cleric, Sheik Aws al-Khafaji, a member of an active political organization. Longley's camera soon moves from this single subject to scenes of masses in motion at a rally. Finally, the film ends with a comparatively idyllic look at a family of Kurdish farmers.

Longley's real achievement lies in his deft melding of artistry and reporting, happily tossing aside such commonplace tools as talking heads, clips and narration. He understands that, as an outsider, no amount of time or footage can properly represent the real Iraqi experience; so he embraces these shortcomings and subverts them. He looks at his subjects through a poetic prism, paying close attention to rhythms, juxtapositions and transitions, rather than factoids. (The title refers both to his method and to one man's statement that the three Iraqi regions depicted herein may become divided into separate countries.)

Although the film doesn't make any earth-shattering discoveries about war profiteering or WMDs, it at least puts a unique face on an "enemy" that few Americans have considered.

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