2007Director: Philip Haas
Cast: Mido Hamada, Damian Lewis, Connie Nielsen
he Situation is, at least in one sense, a very current story. An American journalist in Iraq, Anna (Connie Nielsen) is trying to shed some light on the effect of the ongoing US-led occupation on the lives of Iraqi civilians. With the help of her native-born photographer friend, Zaid (Mido Hamada), she navigates the Shia-Sunni-Kurd divide and, gaining access to key interviewees via her genial diplomacy (and striking good looks), spares no measure in her attempt to tell a multifaceted story about the drowning of an Iraqi boy in a troop-initiated skirmish.
Director Philip Haas uses a "network narrative," as David Bordwell might call it, to tell the film's story from many perspectives, fleshing out the extreme complexity of the situation in Iraq, all the while leading toward an inevitable convergence of all the disparate but ultimately interconnected storylines. While Anna emerges as the protagonist, the aforementioned Zaid struggles to maintain credibility as a faithful Iraqi, although he is seen as cooperating with the occupying force due to the photographs he sells to the Associated Press. Meanwhile, Anna's "sometime boyfriend" Dan (Damian Lewis), a liberal intelligence operative for the US military, attempts to get beyond the jingoistic perspective displayed by nearly all his superiors. We also meet Rafeeq, a father torn between diligent relationship-building and immediate violent action, and his friend Walid, would-be terrorist and enemy of the police. As in any good movie of this sort, Haas legitimates many conflicting views and decisions, heightening the level of moral confusion for the viewer attempting to sort out heroes and villains.
Thus, while The Situation does capture many specific difficulties of life in Iraq these past few years, the story is also as old as colonialism and empires themselves. Among the oppressed we find family and tribal ties, clannishness and desire for material gain, all of which may appear to detached observers as corruption, nepotism, and greed. The powerful display a painful lack of awareness and an itch for action of any sort; at one point when Dan is pressing him for a commitment to the diplomatic gesture of building a hospital, Major Hanks replies with the request, "just give me some shit to blow up." The natives are fearful, and rightfully so, but they have no real grasp of how to change the situation if such a possibility even exists. The cultural divide and vast potential for misunderstanding turn simple frustration to humiliation and devastating, mobilizing rage.
The Situation is an intriguing movie filled with often surprising characters and a good share of memorable moments and images, yet it also serves to reinforce that same feeling one gets upon summoning the courage to open the daily newspaper, only to discover once again reports of suicide bombings, catastrophic failures of government, insoluble differences between races and sects—a never-ending litany of disasters wrought by this war of pride, greed, or ill-conceived idealism. Perhaps we ought to ask ourselves whether it is the obligation of art and artists to depict the awful ugliness spread at home and abroad by our fumbling leaders, or if it might be preferable to revel in works of beauty such that we might rise above our pitiful moment?
By: Andy Slabaugh
Published on: 2007-02-23
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