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June 19, 2007

Sari's Mother, 2006

sari_mother.gifAs in Eva Mulvad and Anja Al-Erhayem's Enemies of Happiness, James Longley's Sari's Mother, the edited "fourth fragment" from Iraq in Fragments, is a sobering portrait of the pervasive confusion and uncertainty that continues to define everyday life under postwar occupation, and its unseen toll on the weakest and most vulnerable. In this segment, Longley chronicles the travails of a village mother whose ten year-old son, Sari, contracted AIDS as a child from a blood transfusion, and is now slowly wasting away from the ravages of the incurable disease. Debilitated by chronic lethargy which prevents him from attending school, Sari spends his days bed-ridden, rising only briefly to receive his (seemingly arbitrarily) prescribed injections that must be administered by his mother, unable to find appropriate medical personnel who can perform the regular treatments for her son. The travails in obtaining proper medical care for her child prove even more frustrating at the hospital, where overworked doctors, often determining the latest course of treatment from incomplete medical histories and disorganized paperwork, continue to prescribe regimens that have already proved to be ineffective or induce serious reactions. Evoking Moussa Bathily's Le Certificat d'indigence in its harrowing portrayal of the figurative breakdown of a health care system that has lost its sense of purpose under the weight of procedural (in)efficiency and petty bureaucracy, Sari's Mother is an impassioned and potent reminder that, even in its resigned inevitability, dying with dignity is still a fundamental human right.

Posted by acquarello on Jun 19, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Human Rights Watch


What a gem. I'm glad the story of Sari's mother wasn't included in Iraq in Fragments proper, since it might have upset the way that film mirrors Iraq itself, but I'm grateful that Longley decided to share it regardless. I love the unhurried way it unfolds, even though the film is short, and I love the way he includes bits of color that are provocative without being didactic, like the short scene of the kids playing with toy vehicles, pretending that Hummers and soldiers are getting blown up.

What I like most about this, though, is the editing. I think of the scene where the mother is sweeping up the yard, shown in three consecutive static shots that together make an arc around the house, with the woman first in the foreground then moving to the background as other things come into view. It really gives a sense of the space, and since Longley is the sole cinematographer on this thing (I think), he's doing a heck of a job editing in his head.

And the lingering feeling the whole thing leaves -- from the arc it makes around the lives of Sari and his mother -- is of a family caught between factions, just incidental details overlooked by a machine that doesn't accommodate the most basic concerns about health and survival.

Posted by: davis on Jun 20, 2007 3:10 PM | Permalink

Thanks Rob, I agree with you about this segment not really fitting into Iraq in Fragments. The tone is certainly very different. The first few minutes actually reminded me a bit of Darezhan Omirbaev's films...pastoral, scenic, and like you've said, the way it seemed so unhurried. I like the way that Longley just lets this everyday ritual play out, but somehow, ends up showing you how much of a nightmare this ordinary ritual has become in the reality of modern day Iraq. It also helped that that Moby tune was nowhere to be heard in this film. :)

Posted by: acquarello on Jun 20, 2007 8:38 PM | Permalink

What Moby tune do you mean? By the way, I think Longley writes the music for his films, too.

I don't think I've seen anything by Darezhan Omirbaev, but when I do a Google search your site is the very first hit. And with a little more digging, I found Shilde (July), broken up into 3 parts. Shilde in fragments, you could say. No subtitles, but wow, that's great*. I do see the similarity, for sure.

* (A year from now we're going to find some asshole on the web laughing at us for the way I said "No subtitles... wow, that's great!" Because I'm an elitist.)

Posted by: davis on Jun 20, 2007 10:01 PM | Permalink

Heheh! Exactly. One of the things that keep surfacing in his films is the bored/lazy kid (they're supposed to be semi-autobiographical), so when I first saw Sari camped out in a sleeping bag, then going back inside to sleep, I immediately thought of him. It was only after he talks about being sick that I realized that's not where Longley was going.

By the way, on the Moby tune, during the interstitials, or at least the last one that segues to the Kurdish village, doesn't Longley use "God Moving Over The Face Of The Waters", or am I misremembering (there's definitely a Philip Glass-ish vibe to that song)?

Posted by: acquarello on Jun 20, 2007 10:20 PM | Permalink

Hm! I'm not sure. I don't remember that part of the movie very precisely, and I'm not familiar with the tune. Could be. Or it could have been a sound-alike.

Posted by: davis on Jun 20, 2007 11:17 PM | Permalink

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