Film Reviews: March / April 2007

| March / April 2007

Life During Wartime: Iraq in Fragments

(Typecast Releasing/HBO Documentary; in theaters; on DVD this spring)

In this stunningly photographed documentary, director James Longley cuts to the heart of the war in Iraq and reveals its multifaceted nature. The award-winning film, shot between 2003 and 2005, supplies a vision of a country that has been split into three different sections-Sunnis in Baghdad, Shia in the south, and Kurds in the north-and that few of our leaders have been able to grasp.

The first chapter follows a young boy, Mohammed, at work, at school, and wandering through the golden-hued streets of the capital. Through voice-over, Mohammad relates poignant bits about his life: his father's imprisonment, the boss who loves him like a son (but who actually berates him), and his dreams of flying away. The second act, more overtly political, shifts to Najaf, where a sheik and follower of Moqtadr Al-Sadr preaches the evils of America and prepares for a regional election. We see self-flagellating Shia marchers and armed men beating and arresting alcohol vendors. "Is this democracy?" residents complain.

For the final, most lyrical section, Longley journeys to a small Kurdish village where gorgeous plumes of smoke waft into the sky from a brick factory. Longley's camera follows another boy, learning, working, and playing in the snow, and an elderly Kurdish gentlemen who states, "The future of Iraq will be in three pieces." While that may be the case, Longley's associative style never preaches. Amid a rash of Iraq documentaries, this one stands apart, both in its beautiful images distinct from the nightly news and in its profound portrait of a people at a crossroads. -Anthony Kaufman

THE SOUNDS OF RIO: Brasileirinho

(Milan; on DVD)

Wailing brass instruments and seamless, arching guitars play the main characters in this documentary about the uniquely Brazilian music style called the choro. A precursor to the bossa nova and the samba, the choro (roughly translated as "cry" from Portuguese) mixes European waltzes with Afro-Brazilian rhythms to create a timeless yet nostalgic sound. Finnish-born director Mika Kaurismaki, who looked at the history of Brazilian music in the film Moro no Brasil, captures the rhythmic atmosphere of Rio de Janeiro by letting the music do the narrating. While Brasileirinho occasionally falls into cliche, the sentimentality fits the context of the music. The famous samba singer Elza Soares sums up the film with the line, "Carinho nao e ruim," or, "Tenderness isn't a bad thing."
-Bennett Gordon