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Mel practice

And a great new Iraq documentary at the MFA
By GERALD PEARY  |  August 9, 2006

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THE BLOOD OF MY BROTHER: Letting us see sides other than our own.
Was I the only one baffled by the daffy, incoherent comments of an oddly bearded Mel Gibson when he was interviewed in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? Now, Gibson’s blathering for the camera can be explained: Mad Mel was probably drunk on his ass. As for Gibson’s anti-Semitic intoxication, here’s one put-off Hebe who doesn’t want a dialogue. In fact, Gibson’s Jew baiting is only the latest blasphemy from this ultra-rightist Catholic fanatic. Long before The Passion of the Christ, he was, even on public record, saying equally vomitous things.

In April 1995, “Film Culture” quoted from a 1991 interview with Gibson for El País, Spain’s largest-circulation newspaper. It was there that the Aussie father of six noted his problems with gays. “They take it up the ass,” he explained, then pointed to his own bottom. “This is only for taking a shit.” In his early acting days, he worried what others might imagine about his sexuality. “But with this look, who’s going to think I’m gay? Do I sound like a homosexual? Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?”

He offered more pearls in a July 1995 Playboy interview. On Darwinism: “I think it’s bullshit. If it isn’t, why are there still apes around? How come apes aren’t people yet? It’s a nice theory, but I can’t swallow it.” On feminism: “Feminists don’t like me, and I don’t like them. I don’t get their point.” On his female former business partner: “She was a cunt.”

Are we getting numbed by Iraqi-set documentaries, even as Bush’s dreadful war grinds on and on? I’ve probably had it watching American infantry troops make their way gingerly through Baghdad, and that’s one third of Andrew Berends’s The Blood of My Brother: A Story of Death in Iraq, which screens August 11-26 at the MFA. The other two thirds are fresh and extraordinary and courageous. Here’s a new documentary about Iraq I’m grateful to have seen.

Berends has gone with his HD camera (he’s director and cinematographer) where no other American has been invited, or dared venture. Somehow he got the confidence of Baghdad’s ultra-religious Shiite community, the very people who preach that infidel Americans are the enemies of Allah. He was there during mass prayer sessions in holy mosques, and he photographed in the streets alongside young militants as they aimed their machine guns at an American helicopter and tank.

Is Berends a seditious enemy of the USA? Bush/Cheney might want to send him to Guantánamo. I think he’s remarkably fair-minded, in filming without voiceover, or manipulating the images to make rhetorical points. He lets us see, intimately and humanely, sides other than our own.

The third part of the film is old-fashioned unscripted cinéma-vérité: 12 months in the life of a Shiite family after the oldest son, Ra’ad, has died as a Muslim martyr, shot by Americans while guarding a mosque. Good vérité takes you to unexpected places. Ra’ad’s younger brother, Ibrahim, talks of killing Americans and Jews. Yet he’s too immature (and perhaps too lazy) to manage his late brother’s photography shop, and the store has to close. This almost-martyr proves a slacker!

The most interesting, oft-refrained insight of the film: every devout Shiite is vocal about wishing “the good death,” paradise gained through martyrdom. Yet in private, the same Muslims are shown to be like everyone else on earth: sad and depressed that their loved ones lie buried, victims of the impossible war.

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