War, Love, God & Madness

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*** (Three stars)
“Watch out, there’s Americans over there.” Such is the warning—from a passing pedestrian—given to a film crew stuck in traffic in Baghdad. As if on cue, the filmmakers' vehicle is soon surrounded by explosions and gunfire. This real-life scene provides one of the more poignant moments in Iraqi director Mohamed Al-Daradji’s troubling documentary about the making of his own 2005 film, Alaam. While there are a few historical references thrown in—Iraq’s Olympic soccer victory over Australia in 2004, the kidnap and murder of humanitarian worker Margaret Hassan—most of the film consists of chaos with little context. It's an approach that certainly underscores the difficulties this film crew endured while filming on location in a war-torn nation, but it also makes the film hard to watch…in the most literal sense. The wildly shaky camerawork, combined with subtitles (the entire film is in Arabic), left me dizzy and wondering if this wasn’t a story that would have been better told in another medium.—Ethan LaCroix, managing editor

[This is a TONY staff review, written for the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. It is not considered an official review and should not be read as such. Please think of it as a casual impression from a movie-loving friend.]

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