'Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror'; 'Return to the Land of Wonders'

Oil Factor: Behind the War on Terror gives muckraking journalism a bad name. Gerard Ungerman and Audrey Brohy's DV assemblage of talking heads and footage shot in Iraq after the cessation of primary hostilities is low-rent Michael Moore, a poorly argued piece of agitprop. Oil Factor only cursorily explores its major contention—that the Iraq war was motivated primarily by the U.S.'s need to secure voluminous oil deposits—and instead haphazardly strikes out at various targets in the Bush II administration. The directors' outrage may be justified, but their reliance on conspiracy theories, dubiously qualified "experts" (other than the estimable Noam Chomsky), and exploitation footage of mutilated Iraq war casualties makes them easy to discredit.

If Oil Factor is a trivial work in the pantheon of anti-Iraq-war documentaries, it is highly efficient in showing the materially deprived facts of daily existence in Baghdad. Yet that chaos could hardly be more different than the image proffered by Maysoon Pachachi in her tripartite documentary Return to the Land of Wonders. Returning to Iraq in February 2004 after a 35-year absence, Pachachi shows an almost sedate, dignified country attempting to rebuild in the face of an obstinate, largely unhelpful occupying force. Part tract on the perilous living standards of contemporary Iraq and part chronicle of the torturous slowness her father Adnan and others experience as they author the country's constitution, Return works best as a document of Pachachi's memory. As she revisits the formative people and places of her childhood, Pachachi achieves vérité lyricism, illuminating a host of lives shattered by both a ruthless dictator and the Western hegemon that replaced him—proving that the subdued, steady accumulation of facts and imagery is far more damning than any sound and fury. JAMES CRAWFORD

 
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