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Iraq in Fragments

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Feature films about the situation in Iraq have been few and far between - actually, there haven't been any. And after Fox TV made a hasty retreat on Over There after a single season, that medium's pretty much dried up. So anything that gives us a sense of what it feels like to inhabit this war-torn country is to be appreciated. And of all the documentaries that have come our way, Iraq in Fragments may do the best job of showing us ordinary Iraqis going about their lives. Put together by James Longley, who spent months insinuating himself into the various milieus, Iraq in Fragments is an impressionistic look at three "fragments" of Iraqi society: working-class Sunnis in Baghdad; fundamentalist-Muslim Shiites in Nasiriyah and Najaf; and sheep-farmer Kurds in a village up north. That it's like visiting three separate countries is part of Longley's point. Where are the ties that bind?

The individual stories are fascinating to anyone who considers Iraq more than a gas pump. In Baghdad, we meet Mohammed, a kid who's trying to scrape by working for an auto mechanic who alternately pinches his cheek and slaps him up the side of the head. In the Shiite strongholds, we watch a theocratic state take root, Longley having shot his footage from 2003 to 2005. And among the Kurds, we sense a land finally free of Saddam, clumps of snow giving way to blades of green grass. How these three fragments are supposed to relate to one another and to some unspecified whole is anybody's guess. Longley doesn't offer much in the way of context, and the American presence is more felt than seen or heard. But one thing this documentary leaves us with is a firm sense of how little we know about this place and how much better off we'd be if we knew more.

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