Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Film Review: The Dreams of Sparrows (2004)

"I want to tell you about a story I heard around the time of the American invasion of Iraq. A man and his wife found themselves in a very difficult situation... The woman was about to give birth to their first child, in the middle of the bombs and the explosions, but had no doctor to assist her. So, the man ran out into the streets at night in the middle of the chaos, to try to find someone, anyone, to help them.

"He returned to his home and decided to try to deliver the child himself. 'It will be easy,' he thought, 'the baby will just come out and everything will be fine.' But, everything was not fine. Something was wrong.

"Standing there, holding this new child, over the (dead) body of the mother, I can imagine what this man felt. We all felt this way, all Iraqi people. This movie is about what happened to that child, to the new Iraq."

So begins The Dreams of Sparrows, a compelling documentary shot by Iraqi filmmakers during the first months of the American occupation of Iraq. The film rides a wave of muckraking lefty documentary films, and yet its heart isnt really with the demogogues. Instead, the film gives the viewer a sense of the very different lives and experiences interrupted, enriched, and in some cases cut short by the overthrow of the Hussein regime. We hear from people who love Bush, those who loved Saddam, those whose lives were destroyed by the regime, even a woman who loves Bush with all of her heart but hates Americans. What the film documents is the supreme diversity of the Iraqi street in all its richness and alterity, a diversity that audiences on this side of the world have likely never seen. I had never seen it.

We hear the eerie silences that are edited out of the nightly news, and feel the strangeness of life that seems to go on where there should be no life. We see the endless lines for gas in a petroleum-rich country, parades of children screaming "Fuck Saddam!" for the first time, girls school children scribbling pictures of war or crammed in makeshift orphanages, the Palestinean refugee camps, the "mental institution" crammed with enemies of the Hussein family, the police struggling to end the suicide bombings, the Fallujah insurgants, American soliders struggling to fit any of this into their frame of reference, and finally the makeshift cemetary with its tombstones reading, "A big man with a blue robe and a set of keys,"; a life reduced in the end to a day's choice of clothing.

It would be hard to make an impartial film in this situation, but the polarized opinions of the group of filmmakers provide a sort of balance. In an irony so bitter that it could only have been scripted by random chance, Sa'ad Fakhar, the filmmaker whose love for Bush and the American people never faltered, is ambushed while driving through Baghdad and flees, only to be shot to death by American troops at a checkpoint. Another writer recalls having faked insanity for six long years to escape the regime, only to be freed by the Americans he had been raised to hate. Ironies flourish in a world turned upside down.

One can argue that the New York editors may have shaped the narrative of the film through their cutting and oriinal music. Nevertheless, the film will likely disturb viewers of all stripes; those who opposed the occupation will be confronted by the slow murder through routine that is totalitarianism, a totalitarianism that post-Enlightenment cultures have always opposed, and that in this case, prevented many Iraqis from beginning their lives; but the pro-war side will see a new Iraq asked to tolerate timelessness, madness and widespread bloodshed so that a foreign government can be satisfied with the job it has done. There is a sorrow over this world that threatens to rain down and flood everything else. The oceanic complicatedness of an entire people is layed out here, and there is absolutely no instruction manual for turning this frightened mob that just wants to go home back into a nation.

Available here.

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