Soon after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, a young and charismatic film student, Muthana Mohmed, stands in the rubble of the city's film school and explains to an American television audience ...
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Soon after the fall of Baghdad in 2003, a young and charismatic film student, Muthana Mohmed, stands in the rubble of the city's film school and explains to an American television audience that his dream of becoming a filmmaker has been destroyed - first by Saddam Hussein, then by American bombs. This brief, fortuitous appearance on MTV changes Muthana's life forever. Watching in the United States, actor/director Liev Schreiber stops channel surfing, utterly captivated. Feeling guilty about a war he opposed, Schreiber decides to extend to the unknown Iraqi the opportunity of a lifetime - to come to Prague to work on an American movie, Everything is Illuminated. On set, frustrated expectations complicate the relationship between Muthana and his American benefactors in what becomes a cross-cultural endeavor gone awry. Filmmaker Nina Davenport becomes increasingly entangled in the young Iraqi's life as his visa is about to expire and the threat of returning to Baghdad looms. Operation ... Written by
When an American actor spotted a short MTV film about a bombed Iraqi film school, he arranged for one of the students to work as an intern on 'Everything is Illuminated', the movie has was about to direct. Unfortuantly, Muthana turned out to be spoilt, proud and unable to enjoy the unglamourous chores that comprise an intern's lot. But immaturity is not a crime, and it's understandable when Muthana tries to plan a permanent escape from Iraq, given the terrible situation at home. But his attempts to wheedle money and favours from those who have helped him are embarrassing: he is the sort of person who, through claiming not to care about money, always needs others to give it to him. But Nina Davenport's documentary about Muthana is arguably a film that shouldn't have been released. The story she might have hoped to make, that of a fairytale, never comes true. Moreover, as she continues to film in spite of the absence of narrative, Muthana identifies her as the most useful person he can tap for money and contacts (and makes the fair point that she is aiming to make money out of filming him). The film ends on an unhappy note all round - Nina is feeding Muthana (with money, and assistance on foreign visas) and is feeling trapped; Muthana (as a flat-mate succinctly puts it) believes himself to be the only person in the world with problems, and the integrity of this documentary has been compromised, as Muthana's relationship with the film-maker becomes the film's own subject. Some of the most riveting documentaries I've seen feature a film-maker who inadvertently becomes part of the story; sometimes a director goes on camera because of their ego; in Nina's case, the motivation appears to be simple: she doesn't have anything else to film. And one sad story amidst a greater tragedy plays out worse than it needed to because of it.
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