Cinema Signal:

The Future of Iraq:
Dictatorship, Democracy or Division?
. "My Country, My Country"

If this extraordinary piece of journalism on the 2005 Iraqi election leaves you with no other impression, it's that the moderate citizens of the war ravaged society have values like ours, home relationships and family interplay like ours, and senses of humor we can readily recognize and enjoy. And, all amidst the rubble and sudden death of war, which we will not recognize as anything we in America have ever been called upon to face.

To the contrary of what some critics have come out of this with, I don't see behavior that could be called alien among these reasonable-thinking moderates.

The sucessful impact of a documentary is largely a matter of an astute choice of subjects. Poitras demonstrates fine judgement in making Dr. Riyadh the central focus of her drama. She is able to show, in a few short scenes, that he's an almost indispensable member of his area, both in curing ills and dispensing aid. He's civic minded, politically astute, a potential leader, as responsible to family and country as a man could be. His natural charisma and solid character commands attention and sympathy throughout.

It is amusing (at times and in certain contexts) and illuminating in a historic sense to witness in such close detail the concerns and doubts about Iraq's first democratic election in the weeks of 2004-2005 preceding the event that actually took place on January 30th. From the perspective of hindsight, we witness the players, the naysayers, the predictors, the excited electoral preparations, the protection plans in the face of lethal threats, the march toward making it a reality.

Poitras, with sometimes unsteady (but forgivable) camera work, takes us to key places at key times as the drama of the timeline unfolds. We see U.S. troops up and down the lines of command, the politically necessary participation of Australian contractors, debates by Iraqi elders and the free flowing opinions of people on the street. We see Dr. Riyadh as one of several local volunteers to note and record prisoners of Abu Ghraib who are suffering the most desperate physical conditions.

Dr. Riyadh runs for a seat on the city council but his party doesn't do so well, forcing him to take a philosophical view even as his daughters run out to vote for their father and then kid about what he owes them for it. In the end, you wish the outcome would have been better for compassionate men like him and for the possibility of democratic unification between inbred sectarian divisions but you'll understand why this documentary was nominated for the 2006 Oscar in the category.

Several sound tracks evoke tears and hope in native minor key style written especially for the film by iraqi singer Kadhum Al Sahir that hit with deep meaning. One of these is an especially poignant song played over the scene of election morning, "Oh my country, when will sadness set you free?". A 2nd auditory powerhouse is the intrumental track accompanying the end credits. You'd be well advised to stay in your seat till the last of it if you appreciate the soulfullness of contemporary Arab music.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  



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Dr. Riyadh
Man of conscience; man of compassion.

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