IRAQ IN FRAGMENTSNR
Filmmaker James Longley take a pensive, thoughtful look at the post-war scene in Iraq from the perspective of the children who are most affected. Thus, what Iraq in Fragments lacks in fresh reportage or sending a political message, it makes up for with unique insight.
In three parts, Longley reveals a tapestry of events, both large and small, that occur during his trips to different provinces of Iraq over a three-year period (2003-2005). In part one, Longley examines the life of Mohammend Haithem, an 11-year-old auto mechanic in Baghdad whose father has disappeared and whose boss is abusive. Though Mohammed is able to free himself from his brutal job situation by working for his uncle, he remains disillusioned about the U.S. occupation and the growing rift between the Sunni and Shiites.
In part two, through the eyes of young men and street youths, Longley observes the mounting anger of the followers of Moqtada Sadr in the holy city of Najaf. As militaristic Islamicists beat and bully the moderate-leaning civilians, the Sadr movement against Western values takes hold in the area.
Finally, in part three, Longley visits a farming community in the Kurdish region and profiles an elderly brick-maker worrying about the fate of his children, despite the Kurds' independence since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Given their new freedoms, the children are less concerned about issues of religion, nationalism and politics, but even they are aware of the tensions and uncertainty within their country.
As the title tells it, Iraq in Fragments illustrates how the U.S.-led invasion put the splintered nature of the country in sharp relief. The film also offers a detailed scrutiny of the lives of the Iraqi people. The narration is spoken entirely by the Iraqis (mainly the children in focus) and the absence of "talking head" interviews gives the film a cinéma vérité look and feel.
Iraq in Fragments differs dramtically from the documentaries about the occupation told from the American point of view (e.g., Occupation: Dreamland) or political films about the decision to go to war (e.g., Fahrenheit 9/11, Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War). Director Longley may in fact be signaling an anti-war stand by way of his emphasis on how challenging life has been after the "official" end of the war. And at least since the days of The Search (1948) and Forbidden Games (1952), many movies have been highly skillful at depicting war's impact on children; Iraq in Fragments is no different, although it eschews melodrama and overt sentiment.
Best of all, Longley's lensing is striking. Not only does he capture the literal point of view of the youngsters, he also bathes many of his shots in a dark, golden light that mirrors the shadowy threat posed by the country's violent, unsettled state. Longley's cinematically poetic approach works best in the film's first part, where Mohammed Haithem's story is particularly moving. (The children in the other parts get less attention and have less heartrending personal dilmmas.)
Iraq in Fragments should appeal to thsoe concerned about the future of Iraq, but also those who want a more personal and complex picture than what is usually presented by the media and other films on the subject.