Iraq in Fragments (Longley, 2006)

If Terrence Malick went into a war zone to document the human cost of religious and ideological division, he might have come out with something like Iraq in Fragments. Malick’s visual emphasis on human conflict and nature must have influenced director James Longley, a documentary filmmaker of great bravery and vision who travelled to Iraq in the Spring of 2003 and stayed for two years charting the three groups of Iraqi people vying for power after the war – the Sunni’s, the Shia, and the Kurds. The result is a highly hallucinatory, vibrant look at a country fragmented by religion, war, imperialism, and sectarian rifts. Longley spends equal time with a Sunni boy named Mohammed attempting to balance work and school, devout Shia followers of the Cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and finally a Kurdish family of bricklayers living in the northern desert plains of Iraq. Every story is framed within the context of the American occupation and each group voices unique opinions on their presence. Since Longley spent so much time living in Iraq, he gets incredibly revealing access to volatile situations most Western filmmakers might have avoided. During the Shia segment, he travels with armed militants who raid a Sunni market and capture alcohol venders, then films the brutal interrogations which follow. Iraq in Fragments has many moments of such startling intensity, and Longley’s stark and fragmented editing style heightens these visual cues. Iraq in Fragments focuses on the human element, the Iraqi people who are suffering, waiting for a consensus that will never come. The film leaves the American elements in the background, heard from afar (helicopters, gunfire, and explosions are all heard offscreen), but never forgotten. Like it’s surreal images and complex subjects, Iraq in Fragments denies any easy explanations, hoping a little lyrical reflection can help inform the human cost of a war that regrettably seems farther out of hand with each passing day.


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