Laura Poitras’s expert, underrated documentary about the January 30, 2005, national election in Iraq makes us a fly on a multitude of walls without any voiceover commentary to intrude on our attention or flight. Poitras interviews no one; her camera observes various official meetings, such as ones pertaining to the policing of the upcoming election, and a family in Baghdad, whose head, Dr. Riyadh, is running for a seat on the Baghdad Provincial Council. A Sunni physician who works at a free clinic, Riyadh is a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party. He opposes the U.S. invasion and occupation.
Scenes of Riyadh with wife and daughters and at the clinic, treating children, stress an ordinary life. At home, he feeds chickens, shaves; a hand cuts a cake as a television news program airs; a daughter viscerally, fearfully reacts to the sound of an explosion outside. We also see Riyadh in other settings, such as at Abu Ghraib, where he expresses outrage that a 9-year-old child, along with other children, is incarcerated (“These children are dangerous,” a U.S. soldier claims), and at a meeting of his party, where the possibility is weighed (and, later, rejected) that democracy could be a tool for securing Iraq as an Islamic nation. It is even uncertain whether the election will take place; leaflets threaten “to wash the streets with the blood of voters.” Election Day, a Riyadh family member remarks, “I wonder if someone is filming voters so they can kill [voters] later.”
A U.S. official stumbles by referring to the election as a “show”(!), and, in a bravura shot from above where we see the shadow of a U.S. plane cast on the populated street below, this image of oversight and protection ironically suggests a bombing run.
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