Wednesday, June 27, 2007
My Country, My Country
This was one of the two Iraqi documentaries that were nominated for the Best Documentary Award at the last Oscars (both lost for Global Warming), it revolves around Dr. Riyadh, a member of the Sunni Islamic Party which was one of the few, if not the only, Sunni fronts that supported entering the first elections held in January 2005 ( only to pull out at the last minute), following him around as he treks between his home in now-notorious Adhamiya, the charity medical clinic there, and his stint as he tries to rally votes for himself as the Baghdad governorate candidate for the Islamic Party. This central story is told in juxtaposition with a subplot about the efforts of UN officials and other MNF officials as they try to set up said elections, mostly shot indoors in conference halls and private contractor rooms. While Iraq For Sale was a dull talking-heads information piece, this one is the capture-them-unawares personal setting, watching it again for this review turned up some pretty unexpected gems of normal Iraqis captured amidst their daily life: a scene of Dr. Riyadh's wife and daughter trying to kill flies completely oblivious to a raging battle outside, a Najaf woman who complaints that her husband spends all his time with Muqtada al-Sadr, Kurdish men in a car talking about the evils of Arab Patriotism, a visit to the notorious Abu Gharib camps, and a very disturbing segment of a family friend who accidentally metions that he asked Americans for help retrieving his kidnapped son while he does not realize that the kidnappers are still on the phone. It all sounds pretty exciting here, but that was not what I felt the first time I watched, personal documentaries like this are made or broken by the human being you're going to spend those 90 minutes with, and Dr. Riyadh isn't really star material, forget the 'this is real wihout glitz' approach ; the Dr. is a sullen, featureless man who is serious and morbid most of the time, while the monotonus Kadhum al-Sahir soundtrack tries hard to convince you there is something sad in front of your eyes, Dr. Riyadh's desk employee mannerisms shines most boringly in the breadth of the film, even when trying to promote himself in upcoming elections with patients and neighbors in an amusingly low-key election campaign, fortunately the home-video segments are somewhat lively, with a wife who is skeptical about her husband's political aspirations and daughters who are constantly on the tease. Also, as compared to Iraq in Fragments, the artistic vision of the filmmaker: the soundtrack, which is just one song repeated, sounds more forced than coloring, nothing like the gloomy soundscapes of James Longley in Fragments which truly underscores the despair in the characters eyes. The series of official conferences leading up to the elections wind up being filler instead of adding depth, so by the anti-climactic end of the film where the party pulls out of the elections rendering all of the film's point mute and Dr. Riyadh standing in the hallway while his wife and daughters tease him, you are left not sure what it is all about. My Country has a good story and a handful of powerful scenes which are lost between lackluster presentation and wavering storytelling.
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PROS: Some interesting scenes of Iraqi experiences during the war.
CONS: Boring hero, unfocused storytelling, soundtrack hell.
ROTTEN TOMATOES: 85% Fresh Rating
KONFUSED RATING: 3 scenes of Dr. Riyadh sulkingly driving his car around Baghdad out of a possible five.