Situation No Win

Dealing head-on with Bush's War, Samarra-set political thriller dissects Iraqi unrest and nails the neocons

Iraq has been the subject of several key documentaries: Each in its way, The Control Room, Gunner Palace, and Iraq in Fragments are crucial to the representation of the war. The Situation is the first fictional film of note to treat the conflict, and as such, it is filled with echoes of Vietnam (and Vietnam-era) movies. Haas's Baghdad certainly doesn't look like Saigon but it has a sickeningly familiar feel. The Green Zone's swimming pools and Chinese restaurants recall the lavish pseudo-America of Apocalypse Now. (Indeed, Steavenson's knowingly noirish first-person reportage owes a bit to Michael Herr.) Anna's gravity seems a subliminal evocation of the concerned expression Jane Fonda adopted in the North Vietnamese photograph Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin had so much fun analyzing in Letter to Jane. And like the saintly Willem Dafoe character in Platoon, Anna initially supports the war, but not now.

Anna, who only nominally reports, is more of a private eye. She becomes emotionally invested when one of her sources is killed, and is amazed when (paraphrasing a line from Chinatown) Dan tells her to forget it, "It's just Iraq." With blindingly blond hair often concealed by a headscarf, Anna functions as a beacon in the fog of war—less because of what she knows than what she is. If the lean, willowy Nielsen is distractingly beautiful, this is perhaps intentional. Haas, after all, is a cultivated man. He began as a maker of documentaries on artists and graduated to self-consciously rarefied, upper-middlebrow literary projects—fastidiously adapting the likes of Paul Auster, A.S. Byatt, and John Hawkes. (It hardly seems coincidental that he initially encountered Steavenson's war reporting in Granta.)

Iraq in fragments
photo: Shadow Distribution
Iraq in fragments


The Situation
Directed by Philip Haas
Shadow Distribution, opens February 2

Haas has never shied away from symbolism, and where the versatile Nielsen is nearly convincing as Anna, she's sensational as the embodiment of an abstract idea. The movie's final moments make clear that this golden woman is the meaning of the war—the hope that the American invasion released from Pandora's box.

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