The Magazine

Three Iraqi Films

Saddam's fall liberated moviemakers, too.

May 30, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 35 • By CYNTHIA GRENIER
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Zaman rows his small boat up the Tigris, passing a wedding party celebrating on brightly decked boats. The first small towns he comes to have none of the medications he seeks. He must go to Baghdad. But the capital, with its traffic, noise, and crowded streets, is as strange a world to Zaman as it is to Western audiences. At a bus stop we see a heavy driver shouting out a wonderful spiel for men to board his bus to go to see some famous Iraqi fighter. His arms swoop back and forth, miming a prizefight. A few vivid moments, and Zaman trudges on to yet another pharmacy. A young attendant at a Catholic hospital, indignant at the corrupt ways of her superior, gives the medication to Zaman, refusing any payment. Ironically, Zaman begs her to thank her superior for his great kindness.

Throughout the film, Iraqi life is shown in all the shadings and nuances of life almost anywhere in the world. Alwan's own politics come in only in the voiceover, praising French President Jacques Chirac's Iraq policy and criticizing George W. Bush; but if you blink and don't understand Arabic, you could easily miss both. The look of the lush green marshlands, with their dwellings made of woven reeds by the water's edge, is very handsome. Apparently, the marshlands are slowly reverting to their natural state.

The third film, About Baghdad, is a documentary made by a collective, InCounter Productions, and follows an exiled Iraqi writer and poet, Sinan Antoon, on a trip he made to Baghdad in July 2003 as he interviews an assortment of Iraqis speaking their minds on the Americans, and on their life under Saddam. One quite astounding sequence shows the monument to the Martyrs (those who fell in the Iraq-Iran war) which apparently has never been seen on American television. Two immense pale blue forms rise out of a desert, rather like two parts of a gigantic eggshell. The open space between the two halves is explained as being where the soul emerges from the body on one side before coming to rest on the other in Heaven.

What remains in your mind from these three films, which are scheduled to play throughout the country through the end of next month, is their reflection of the character of the Iraqi people. The most encouraging, perhaps, are the children of Turtles Can Fly. These youngsters, for the most part all under ten, are singularly resilient, tough, independent, and enterprising. They are not actors. With a good turn from history, they are the kind of children who, in growing to adulthood, may build a strong society and country prepared to take its place in the world. These kids give you hope, and you only trust they will be able to grow up.

Cynthia Grenier writes the Mag Trade column for the Washington Times.