Even amid a glut of worthy documentaries about the worsening situation in Iraq, Laura Poitras' (FLAG WARS) dispassionate but powerful film stands apart. By focusing on a single course of events — the tense run-up to the historic free elections for the Iraqi National Assembly scheduled for January 2005 — from a wide variety of perspectives, Poitras presents a grave situation in all its depth and complexity. The film's central figure is Dr. Riyadh, a Baghdad doctor and a father of six who's running for the district council. Dr. Riyadh is a believer in democracy, but finds himself at odds with many of the fellow Sunnis who make up the Iraqi Islamic Party, and who oppose the coming election on the grounds that it's an empty show orchestrated by occupying American and coalition forces who recently laid siege to the important Sunni town of Fallujah. As Dr. Riyadh tries to convince his neighbors in the predominantly Sunni Adhamiya district that if they boycott the elections they'll be shut out of a coalition government, members of the Iraqi Islamic Party debate whether or not to withdraw their candidates altogether. Meanwhile, voter-registration efforts are stepped up along with security measures designed to protect voters on a day many fear with end in a bloodbath. Teams of Australian contractors hired to run security detail are sent north to train members of the Kurdish militia and get AK-47s and RPDs shipped into the country, while Iraqi men in Baghdad are trained to serve as election police. As the months leading up to the election turn to weeks and days, anti-American sentiment rises along with shocking incidents of insurgent violence, including car bombings outside future polling centers and the cold-blooded killing of election officials. Poitras boldly dispenses with the traditional documentary voice-over, but her film is filled with telling moments that are far more eloquent than any scripted narration. Dr. Riyadh visits prisoners, some as young as 14, incarcerated for over a year, without hearings, at the now-infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Another doctor desperately tries to negotiate the return of his son, whom he suspects has been kidnapped for ransom by members of the resistance movement. At an election-police pep talk, one Iraqi trainee sharply questions an American officer's unfortunate choice of the word "show" to describe the attention the election is bound to receive, a word confirming many Iraqis' worst fears regarding the legitimacy of the free election. In the film's most poignant scene, a burly American officer breaks down during a U.S.-military training session as he remembers the two Iraqi interpreters who were gunned down by snipers. It's a brief but powerful moment that perfectly captures the human cost of bringing democracy to Iraq.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: NR
- Review: Even amid a glut of worthy documentaries about the worsening situation in Iraq, Laura Poitras' (FLAG WARS) dispassionate but powerful film stands apart. By focusing on a single course of events — the tense run-up to the historic free elections for the Iraq… (more)