Anywhere But Here | The Nation


Anywhere But Here

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That's as hopeful as it gets in Occupation: Dreamland, a picture in which most of the soldiers admit to having enlisted for lack of anything better to do, and now find they have nothing to look forward to other than self-preservation. Why the sense of futility? The reason becomes clear whenever Arabs take over the scene (as they never do in Gunner Palace), to deliver extended, impromptu street tirades against the occupation. They shout at the soldiers through an overburdened interpreter, and they shout at the filmmakers, too. You're not in Baghdad any longer, the men warn. "This is Falluja. Be careful of Falluja."

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Stuart Klawans
The Nation's film critic Stuart Klawans is author of the books Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (a finalist for...

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A more apt comparison would be between the surviving staff of the satirical magazine and the brave abortion providers who carried on after the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

And why should the foreigners be careful of this particular place? On this subject, Occupation: Dreamland is silent, Scott and Olds having chosen to present only what they recorded themselves, during one slice of time. So, if you rely solely on the words spoken in the film, you might conclude that Falluja is populated by principled anticolonialists, or perhaps tradition-bound paternalists. (There was much outrage on the streets, when Scott and Olds were in town, about the Americans having taken a woman into custody.) On the other hand, if you've absorbed some of the news media's standard phrases about Falluja--Sunni Triangle, Baath loyalists--you might write off much of the anger as the rage of a corrupt minority at losing power.

Or perhaps you know more. Maybe you've read of how Saddam Hussein wasn't all that fond of Falluja, whose clerics had been annoyingly independent. Maybe you can even remember how Falluja, though correspondingly cool toward Saddam, became a center of insurgency. In April 2003, just three weeks after US tanks entered Baghdad, American troops opened fire on a protest march in Falluja, killing a reported fifteen people and wounding seventy-five. After that, the citizens were dead set against Americans--a piece of information that was highly relevant to Alpha Company, and might be relevant to your understanding of its soldiers, but cannot be gleaned from Occupation: Dreamland.

In short, you have to bring your own context to the picture, which is that much poorer for its own stinginess. I would not stress this complaint, except that every record we can get of the occupation is crucial. Fighting is no longer beamed into everyone's living room as it was during the Vietnam War. The pictures are now available mostly to the funny people who visit art houses and rent obscure DVDs, or who might tune in to a premium cable channel that's showing Gunner Palace or Occupation: Dreamland. Precisely because this core audience is limited, the information in the documentaries shouldn't be. Every new viewer who stumbles across these films is statistically significant.

That said, Scott and Olds can claim the integrity of having given you just what they saw and heard themselves during six weeks in residence with Alpha Company. The material may be fragmentary and ambiguous by nature, but it was hard won, and it has an undeniable force. This is what it's like to be bored, itchy, angry, isolated, underprepared and far outnumbered among a foreign people who hate you. This is what many of us art-house types will never know firsthand.

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