120 Days: Iraq and Underexposure

I’ve decided in response to the current administration’s decision to ban refugees from Libya, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen, I am going to watch (and maybe write about) a movie by or about one of those seven places. Movies are among the easiest and most popular form of escape in our world, giving us the ability to transport ourselves to all sorts of places and, perhaps most importantly, into the perspective of another. While they only paint small visions of the world we live in, they expand what we think is possible and what we know of people.


My second viewing in this series is Underexposure, a 2005 Iraqi film. I am discovering that the film culture in a lot of these places is not as prevalent as I might have hoped for an exercise such as this, but in a way this makes it almost better. The story of this movie coming to be is almost as exciting as the movie itself. The filmmakers got the film used to shoot the movie from looters in the wake of America’s occupation in Iraq. It’s expired, something they note in the movie’s title, and it gives the whole thing a yellowish tint throughout. They had to sell their possessions to raise enough money to complete the movie, which would end up being the first film to be made after the fall of Sadam Hussein.

Works of art can serve as a purging of oneself. The film features a group of guys trying to make a documentary about their town in the midst of occupation. Its main character, Hassan, speaks in long voiceovers, using poetic language to express the pain that appears with every bomb or from every person he learns has passed. For him the film serves as a way to free himself from it all, to reckon with his surroundings–to purge this great sorrow. The great lengths the actual filmmakers went to in order to get this movie made cannot be separated from the visions Hassan has, it’s all too meta not to be. This is how everyone involved in this production chose to find meaning in their lives.

Hassan grapples with the suffering and death that surrounds him, small people in his life pass on and you cannot help but note that this could be anyone, your neighbor, those acquaintances you once had. This is truly the empathetic power of movies, they drop you into an experience, giving a perspective of someone you’ll never know. You escape your worldview, if for but a moment, relating to and even siding with those opposite of ourselves.

As noted above, most of the characters in the film are commoners, they’re apolitical, trying to make a living in their town which has been destroyed by an irredeemable government and a group of outsiders who don’t like or trust them. There is no common sentiment displayed by the film, other than sorrow, yet resentment rides high, the logical reaction to those who have wrecked all you know. This is both us and them, though. Humanity is wont to act in self-preservation, grabbing onto to the narratives we are given and using them as motivation to get through our lives. And in this is the deepest of commonalities. We live in a world of imagined divides, with walls that we have been told exist, but exist solely in our collective social constructions as those above us gain off our broken backs.

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