IRAQ IN FRAGMENTS directed by James Longley. A Typecast release. 94 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 23) at the Royal. See Indie & Rep Film, page 83. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Director James Longley's amazing access to war-ravaged Iraq makes this Oscar-nominated documentary necessary viewing for anyone interested in the political hot spot. But it's also a stunning piece of art, completely deserving of its shelfful of awards.
The clever title refers to its three sections, one dealing with the hellish life of an illiterate 11-year-old Baghdad urchin, the next a look at rising Shiite militants and the final an elegy for the plight of the country's Kurds.
Longley has a poet's eye and a humanist's heart, but he also gets as close to the action as any war correspondent. There are many "how did he shoot that?" moments, such as when he captures Shiites attacking a market where they round up men, transport them by truck and then interrogate them for selling alcohol. Tellingly, one of the captured men compares his treatment here to his treatment under Saddam's regime. "I've done nothing," he shouts, "and I'm still sitting on a floor with a bag over my head."
Throughout, Longley shows great sympathy for children. The fatherless Mohammed, with his fearful, feral look, is straight out of Dickens, but likely without a happy ending. His scratchy comments, spoken while smoke rises from surrounding buildings, are poignantly simple yet wise.
Longley's digital camera captures it all with razor-sharp immediacy, and although he doesn't add sound effects - this is true cinéma vérité - he does layer the images with some of his subjects' voices, creating a haunting counterpoint to what we're seeing.
This is your one chance to see the film on a big screen before this weekend's Oscars. Kudos to the Royal Cinema, which, following Monkey Warfare and 13 Tzameti, continues to program some of the most intelligent films around.