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My Country, My Country


My Country, My Country

Director: Laura Poitras
Runtime: 90 minutes

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The quietly damning documentary My Country, My Country follows the lead-up to the Iraqi elections on January 30, 2005, hailed then as the latest in a long line of "turning points" in the country's democratization. Early in the film, an American military officer presents a list of conditions that need to be satisfied for the election to be considered a success. He states upfront that he doesn't care about pleasing "Denmark" or any of the other international observers on hand to validate the results. What he does care about is "Joe Iraqi," the average, fair-minded citizen who desires peace and progress and doesn't have any ideological ax to grind. Shooting in a one-person crew with only her translator on hand, director Laura Poitras finds the perfect Joe Iraqi in Dr. Riyadh al-Adhadh, a middle-aged family man from a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad; he believes enough in the democratic process to run for election himself. The results aren't persuasive.

With Riyadh as the focus, Poitras branches out into a detailed survey of election preparations and a more general study of ordinary Iraqi life under the occupation. Though some of her conclusions seem a bit predigested, the film stands out for being more observant and less strident than other documentaries on the subject, and she's sympathetic to the well-meaning coalition operatives trying to make the best of a difficult situation. She collects quotes from a U.N. Elections Support official who's helping to orchestrate this enormous undertaking, private Australian security contractors assigned to guard polling stations, and the Iraqi citizens who come through Riyadh's clinic.

Reserving the only trace of editorializing for the end credits, which list some sobering numbers on the occupation and this so-called successful election, Poitras mainly allows her subjects and the circumstances to speak for themselves. More than two years after the invasion, the electricity still goes in and out in the Riyadh household, and the sound of bombs and gunfire occasionally rattles the family peace. As for Riyadh, he comes across as a patient, eminently reasonable man, outspoken against the occupation, yet determined to fight a Sunni boycott of the election because he fears their voices will go unheard. The film makes it look like a losing battle for him and his fellow Joe Iraqis.