Iraq in Fragments, 2006

Composed of three self-contained chapters that integrally represent the figurative image of the country divided, not only by ethnic and religious sectarianism, but also by the further destabilization of an undefined and politically – and culturally – intrusive occupation, James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments exquisitely fuses the aesthetics of Godfrey Reggio in the artful presentation of decontextualized, self-expressive landscape (most notably, in the accelerated, time lapse interstitial sequences between regions) with the immediacy of objective, indigenous documentary. Opening in the working class district in Baghdad where young Mohammad, an apprentice mechanic struggling with his studies and his conflicted emotions over his heavy-handed, but compassionate and well-intentioned boss and mentor (and surrogate father figure) who ridicules his poor performance at school, even as he encourages him to stop working in order to concentrate on his schoolwork, the first chapter tersely encapsulates the complicated reality of postwar Baghdad, as children must increasingly compromise their education, childhood, and ultimately their future for economic survival. The second chapter takes place in southern Iraq during the Shia’d Uprising, as seen through the eyes of a young Shiite cleric and disciple of Moqtada Sadr’s Shiite Revolutionary as the faithful perform their atonement ritual on a public street and the Islamic militia subsequently sets off on a (sometimes brutal) campaign to return the region to the strictures of Islamic law and purge the contamination of occupation and secularism. Vacillating between images of law enforcement and vigilantism, enlightened spirituality and intolerance, the chapter incisively articulates the delicate balance between maintaining social order and repression inherent in a theocracy. The third chapter is shot from the lush, agrarian region of a northern Kurdish village, as two childhood friends are inevitably separated, not by war or ideology, but by cultural tradition of familial duty as Suleiman must abandon school in order to work for a brick factory and tend to the family farm for his aging father. Concluding with Suleiman’s acceptance of his humble destiny, the chapter evokes Mohammad’s earlier articulated hopefulness for a better life for his family and his community, bringing to full circle the complex image of a diverse country still burning in the wreckage of an imposed war and ensuing violence, fragilely – and eloquently – held together by the dreams of children.

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