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The Marines of Echo Company
Iraq in Fragments illuminates post-war Iraq in three acts, building a picture of a country pulled in different directions by religion and ethnicity. Filmed in verité style with no scripted narration, the film explores the lives of ordinary Iraqis to illustrate and give background to larger trends in Iraqi society.Written by
Best documentary so far about the Iraq War that is based on the experiences & perspectives of Iraqis themselves
A brilliantly made documentary, the first about Iraq that focuses exclusively on the people of that troubled land, rather than on the U.S. military occupation forces. The title is a triple entendre. We know that the country has been fragmented from its beginnings after WW I as a stitched together confederation of disparate Kurd, Shia and Sunni territories. Iraq was, of course, further fragmented as a consequence of the recent U.S. invasion. The title also refers to the cobbling together of fragments of footage shot at different times and places to create this film.
James Longley shot nearly 300 hours of film over a two year period, from April, 2003, to April, 2005. He has edited his material to produce a series of three stories, film fragments skillfully arranged to show us differing perspectives. Part I is set in Baghdad, and is Sunni slanted. Part II is set primarily in Naseriyah and features the radical Shia movement led by Muqtada al Sadr. Part III is set in the north, in rural Kurdish country.
Longley permits the people who live in these places to tell their own stories. There are no expert talking heads, no editorializing voiceovers. Youngsters as well as adults have their say (though every speaker is male; Longley says he has footage of women that could become the focus of another film). We venture into schools, marketplaces, religious and political rallies.
It is evident that only the Kurds here consider the American presence beneficent. But the only Shia element that is given voice here is the most anti-American, al Sadr's group (in Part II). We know that among the larger Shia majority, opinions about the U.S. are to some degree more variegated. It almost goes without saying that the Sunnis, the group most closely affiliated with Saddam's reign, is almost unanimously anti-U.S.
The artistry of Longley's film is breathtaking. His cinematography is first rate, with marvelous use of close-ups of people from imaginatively conceived camera angles, sometimes against distant scapes. One scene shows just hands and forearms of people in a crowd as they are reaching up for pamphlets: it is a stunning image.
The footage is high resolution with vivid coloration, except for several minutes of grainy footage with poor light quality near the end of Part II. The editing and sound are also wonderfully realized. While someone is talking, the camera drifts to images that complement or supplement what the speaker is saying. The film won best documentary awards at Sundance 2006 for direction, cinematography and editing. All well deserved. (In Kurdish, Arabic & English) My grades: 9/10 (A) (Seen at the Portland (OR) International Film Festival on 02/23/06)
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