‘Iraq in Fragments’ is a documentary told in fragments, but provides a complete picture of the present situation in Iraq. It is not a political film because it does not take sides – in fact, it is almost apolitical. The technique used by American director James Longley, who spent two years making the film and it shows, consists of 3 separate stories, each about 30 minutes long, featuring people of Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish origins. Individually these stories, told entirely from the perspective of the 3 protagonists without any influence from the film crew, is representative of the different facets of the people of Iraq
The first of these, entitled ‘Mohammad of Baghdad’ is about a boy who tries to balance working at a local tea stall with studies at school. The segment explores the present situation from a child’s point of view – and all we feel is fear for the surroundings and uncertainty for the future. ‘Sadr’s South’, the second feature, is narrated by a Shiite, who does not believe in America’s enforced democracy, and is prepared, along with his followers and political peers, to setup their own elected local government, even if it requires the use of force. The third, ‘Kurdish Springs’, shows us the lives of Kurdish shepherds, happy and content in the aftermath of Saddam’s topple, because for the first time as far as they can remember, they have the chance of being recognized as a minority with a voice of their. None of these people may get what they want because the situations that they find themselves in are beyond their control, but that doesn’t stop them from trying or at least hoping.
Very few documentaries concentrate on getting their look right. Some don’t need to, but those that are about places, such as ‘Iraq in Fragments’, can only convey the right sense of environment if they take conscious efforts to capture it. Technically, and this is great praise for a documentary, ‘Iraq in fragments’ is not just pristine and polished, but almost perfect visually. It deservedly won the award for Best Cinematography, Direction and Editing at Sundance this year, surprising rare for the same film, unheard of for a documentary. Nearly all of what we view is drenched in sepia tones or hues that are reflective of the segments. Longley, who also produced, edited and scored the finished product, is a student of well versed in the Russian techniques of filmmaking and his style and composition are the closest the world will probably ever come to seeing a documentary made using the sensibilities of Andrei Tarkovsky.
The film is extremely candid and is made with greatly impassioned truthfulness. Consider for example the fact that Mohammad, the little boy from the first part, has failed first grade twice and is 4 years older than all his classmates, yet cannot spell his fathers name after all these years. He is told by the stall keeper that he cannot continue to work because of his ineptitude, and this hurts the boy. Now imagine viewing and hearing all of this, as narrated by Mohammad himself, with the precociousness of adolescence. Voiceover narration isn’t the only technique used. In all the segments, everyday people from the various factions of Iraq voice their opinions while going about their lives. In singularity, the segments alone are powerful and meaningful; collectively they become a time capsule of what is, demonstrating in full force the abilities of ordinary people to think, form opinions and take a stand. The proverbial ‘sum is greater than the parts’ holds true in the case of ‘Iraq in Fragments’ and the films title makes more meaningful sense as we see more of what the director films throughout the war torn country. An insightful and rare look at how people’s differences and prejudices can divide a nation.
- by Faizan Rashid [Rated 5 out of 5]