Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)

“Our point of view follows a trajectory to become the vanishing point of our own failure.” —Jacques Lacan

“Who plunged this place of light into darkness?” asks with a heavy heart an Iraqi actor sifting through the bombed ruins of what had once been Iraq's film office and archives. Though rhetorical and sappy it may sound, the question epitomizes the visual dilemma Abbas Fahdel's documentary expands on. At the very centre of Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) are in fact questions of representation, of cultural perspective and omission of the visible. The film, divided into two parts, follows the director's extended family and friends in the run-up to the American invasion of Iraq (“Before the Fall”) and in its fatal aftermath (“After to the Battle”). Presumably due to the family's temporary move to a countryside house during the bombing of Baghdad, the war itself—that is, the military invasion of of a sovereign nation—is not featured in the documentary. This absence becomes more and more telling as the film progresses and we realise that the armed aggression of Iraq was but the prelude to a nightmare of unspeakable proportions. Fahdel's film is disarmingly simple yet unprecedented in that it shows the daily reality of those on the receiving end of our humanitarian wars. Despite the overwhelming proliferation of images, “Homeland” has the same impact of footage from a newly discovered planet, something we literally have never seen before. Even the most courageous and truthful attempts to describe the Iraq war (Laura Poitras' My Country, My Country or Paul Haggis' In the Valley of Elah, for instance) are irremediably removed from the epic naturalism that unfolds from every frame of this film. The most distressing aspect of the war that the film captures is not the actual invasion but its consequences: the descent of Iraqi society into utter and violent chaos. Far from being a collateral damage of sort, the disintegration of Iraqi society is a strategic ploy (as old as colonialism itself) that the American administration carried out by any means necessary. For the citizens of Iraq this meant a forced cohabitation between the bearable lightness of everyday life and the dim indeterminacy of incessant, deadly danger.
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