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Return To The Land Of Wonders


Return To The Land Of Wonders

Director: Maysoon Pachachi
Runtime: 88 minutes

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About halfway through her documentary Return To The Land Of Wonders, Maysoon Pachachi shows footage from home movies her family took in Iraq more than 35 years ago. Pachachi is the daughter of a diplomat, and the shots of her Baghdad girlhood show the Middle East as a friendly, exotic playground, completely unlike what it's become. But those home movies and a few scattered lines of voiceover narration are about as much time as Pachachi spends on the "land of wonders" of her youth. She has too much other ground to cover, like documenting the main reason for her return to Baghdad: her father's work on the country's new constitution.

Pachachi catches some debate over the reasons behind Iraq's new Bill Of Rights—protecting the citizenry from the government, essentially—and she heads into town meetings held by local women worried about the rise in lawlessness and religious fundamentalism. When she gets the chance, Pachachi slips around the roadblocks and cordons of her diplomatic compound and talks to Iraqis in the streets where she grew up. But that's where Return To The Land Of Wonders gets a little lost. The hospital tours and complaints about Americans are fine in and of themselves, but Pachachi doesn't integrate her interviews into any kind of comprehensive portrait of recent Iraq history. They're bunched together randomly, like a collection of vignettes Pachachi picked up while she happened to be in Baghdad.

And while she's gathering gripes on the ground, she's missing the two stories to which she has the best access. The first is her own story, as somebody who lived in the heart of the Arab world in the days before its relationship with the West soured. The second is her father's story, as he fights to restore the soul of a once-great nation, one clause at a time. At one point late in the film, another of the constitution-drafters describes the moment when the committee finally agreed on a wording and erupted in cheers and joyful weeping. "It was just like a movie," he gushes. But not like this one.