Homeland: Iraq Year Zero provides an intimate portrait of life in Baghdad immediately before and after the 2003 American invasion. In the director’s words, the film is a tomb: just as much a tomb for places as well as for people. Not only do we witness casual loss of life and personal security, but also the destruction of the identity. Screened in Amman in the context of the Franco-Arab film festival, Iraqi-French director Abbas Fahdel delivers a cinéma-réalité tragedy of epic proportions: in a little over five hours, we follow him walking with his family and friends through Baghdad, speaking to victims of casual house bombings, but mostly spending time within the one safe space: the family home. Fahdel’s three previous films – Back to Babylon, We Iraqis, and Dawn of the World, are all documents of both historical and personal nature relating to the pre- and post-war experience in Iraq, yet none were on such a monumental scale.
The first half of the documentary (before the war) is characterized by a calm and learned preparation for the coming war, even by those who have not yet experienced war. The twelve-year old Haidar re-tapes the window that still had left-over tape from 1991. His older sister, who had been a small child then, dries dozens of loafs of bread for storage ‘just like last time’… They both wonder aloud when the Americans will come so they can have time off from school. This is when we learn Haidar will die as a result of the invasion.
Still from Part I
As well as filming the lives of his family and friends, Fahdel focuses on documenting Iraq’s heritage, as he knows the Americans did and will again deliberately attempt to destroy it. He films museums of rural life, an old abandoned theatre, and the bombed al-Amiriyeh shelter, which was turned into a museum in order to remind Iraqis -and the international community- of the unintended causalities of war. In Part II we indeed witness the destruction of archives: we see actor Samir Kaftan, who had been expressing hope for the revival of Iraqi theatre in Part I, standing helpless amidst the rubble of the looted and burnt Iraqi Film Archive; we see the bombed out façade of the Iraq Museum, guarded by an American tank; we see civilian casualties where before we had seen a museum dedicated to the memory of such casualties in order to ‘prevent history from repeating itself’.
Still from Part II
Life before the war was characterized by the effects of the 1991 war and Ba’athist propaganda. Yet it still contained a certain naivety to it, at least for children within the comfort of their home. In Part I, we see the children smiling and laughing at propaganda videos on TV, singing along with the televised mechanic doll-like supporters. In Part II, there will be no more ‘wonderful father of Iraq’ waving and smiling; the images the children will see on T.V. will be the disfigured bodies of Uday and Kusay Hussein. As bleak as the illusory propaganda world was, the American invasion and the chaos that ensues offers yet bleaker spectacles for young Iraqis to gaze upon.
The destruction of archives, museums, memory goes hand and hand with eternal recurrence, and thus with the continual murder of civilians. While Haidar walks through the al-Amiriyeh shelter, staring at the photos of massacred children, the spectator knows that he too shall be murdered—yet at the time of filming Fahdel himself did not know so: it is a tragedy without a poet, a tragedy of everyday life under chaos. Homeland: Iraq Year Zero demonstrates the casual repetitiveness of brutal history, in which attempting to keep memory alive (in this case, through the conservation of war monuments) is just as unavailing as forgetting. Yet keeping the memory alive is itself an act of rebellion- in an age where destructive amnesia prevails and war seems to follow the law of eternal return.
The film is still touring festivals around the world; keep an eye open for screenings in the U.K and Jordan. More information and a trailer can be found on: https://abbasfahdel.com/2015/02/12/homeland-iraq-year-zero/
War, but _for_ what? Sadly, it seems that the only ones who still have some ideology to fight _for_ is the (various flavors of) islamists. The rest have no will to fight, or only to fight _against_.
This is not going to end well.
Civilization and de-civilization both start in people’s heads. And it looks like it’s been lost in most people’s heads.
(De)Civilization and Iraq remind me of Paul Rosenberg’s “Production and Plunder”.