We are all well aware of the dangers involved in making a documentary in Iraq these days. So it is particularly courageous that a young American filmmaker should have chosen to record the six-month period running up to the first democratic elections in Iraq last year. Of course this in itself is not enough to make a good film, but Laura Poitras has achieved something that no other filmmaker has yet managed to do. Through her central character Dr Riyadh she has given an intimate, human face to the urbane, educated, scientific and devoutly Muslim Iraqi that rarely, if ever, finds a voice.
In the west, Dr Riyadh might be an ordinary and perhaps unexceptional doctor, but in the context of post-invasion Iraq his life is rendered extra-ordinary. His daily surgery, whilst still busy with mundane complaints of headaches and sore throats, is now the location where exasperated mothers air their concerns about sons and husbands who no longer work and give all their time and money to the Madi army and Muqtada al-Sadr. This peculiar intimacy of the doctor’s surgery is mirrored by the time spent amongst the doctor’s own family. It is here that the normalcy of teenage sons and daughters exists alongside the abnormality of grenade attacks that can be witnessed from the kitchen window at the same time they are being broadcast on TV on the omnipresent satellite television news. Whilst an intimate portrait of life in the eye of the Iraqi maelstrom might have been enough, the narrative strands of the film cohere when the doctor decides to stand as a candidate for the Islamic Party in the elections.
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