As beautiful as it is unrevealing, James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments" rests on a debatable but firm premise -- that the embattled country is irrevocably separated by its three dominant groups, Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds -- but brings back nothing journalistically substantial from the war front. Presumably, current docs on Iraq should shed light on this intensely complex place, especially given U.S. military and financial involvement and the electronic news media's generally superficial reporting. In this case, the superficiality continues, but lensing is magnificent, assuring at least a DVD sale.
First section looks at the sorry existence of young, fatherless Mohammed Haithem, in and out of school and working for a gruff Baghdad auto mechanic. After this emotionally felt but less-than-penetrating look at disenfranchised Sunnis, the pic momentarily improves in a midsection set in the Shiite south. Longley scores a scoop as he records self-styled Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr's feared militia brutally enforcing ultra-conservative Islamic laws. Final section with a Kurdish farming family shows little of this group's well-developed independent culture.
Camera (color, DV), Longley; editors, Billy McMillin, Fiona Otway, Longley; music, Longley. Arabic, Kurdish dialogue. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 20, 2006. Running time: 93 MIN.