Anyone who labors under the opinion that the U.S. military occupation’s of Iraq has been and continues to be a tremendous success needs to put 52 minutes aside and see Australian filmmaker Kylie Grey’s extraordinary documentary “My Home – Your War,” which shows the tragic effects of the occupation from the street level view of a middle class Baghdad family.
Grey’s film, which was shot from pre-invasion 2003 through 2006, focuses on Layla Hassan, a professor at Baghdad University, and her immediate family – her pharmacist husband, her Britney Spears-worshipping teenage son Amro, her free-spirited younger sister and various aunts. The U.S. actions unleash a rollercoaster of emotions: the panic of what will happen prior to the “shock and awe” campaign, the initial giddiness of Saddam Hussein’s ouster and the new freedoms of expression and assembly, the gradual numbness that the U.S. military’s incompetence is allowing Baghdad to go to rot, and the despair that violence and theocracy have permanently taken root in what had been a stable and secular society.
The film avoids sugar coating the situation by openly showing how Baghdad went from bad to worse under the U.S. occupation. The city is a shambles, with buildings reduced to rubble, armed gangs roaming the streets and military helicopters in constant flight. When Layla’s sister is interviewed, shots ring out in the near distance. She smiles and informs Grey: “This is normal life.”
The faculty of the state-run Baghdad University have to work without pay – the military powers that moved into the city failed to budget in the continuation of local government services (and, in any event, the rampant looting that was allowed to occur wiped out the bank reserves). Layla’s hopes of emigrating to Canada to take a teaching position are wrecked when she discovers no mechanism is in place to issue passports.
Her sister abruptly jettisons her socially progressive ways and dressed in the hijab. Her son stockpiles guns and speaks of involvement with a local milita – “I would blow up a tank, why not?” he says. Layla, who is visibly aged and weary after three years of living in a war zone, cannot hide her disgust at what transpired in her country. Layla and her family do a political 180 and begin to rue the stability they enjoyed during the Saddam Hussein years. “But now, everything is gone,” she says. “As if it was gone with him.”
The Americans make a very brief appearance, as Grey interview a few soldiers who express frustrated boredom at their Baghdad duties. Considering the American media’s continued jingoism of the role of the occupying forces, Grey’s interviews are more than a little shocking.
As the occupation drags on and the situation deterioriates, Grey has to leave Baghdad for her own safety. E-mail messages and phone calls keep the filmmaker updated on Layla’s world. Grey eventually sends a video camera to Layla, and the resulting footage is devastating. More than three years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Layla has seemingly aged 20 years. Her world is shattered as her son openly handles weapons while her husband seems to have faded into helplessness. Layla, looking into the camera’s lens, speaks angrily of what transpired and offers this message to Americans: “Please don’t forget that we are human being and not insects.”
Maybe someday in the very near future, Americans will remember that message. Hopefully, Americans can scope out this film, which goes much deeper than any local media coverage of the situation in Iraq. Within the too-fast growing world of Iraq-based documentaries, “My Home – Your War” stands out for giving articulate Iraqis the opportunity to offer their story. This is one of the year’s very best offerings.