Most war films are about war's participants. They're about the people fighting and making the decisions to fight, and sometimes they're about the people on both sides who die in the line of fire. ``The Blood of My Brother" is about the people related to those people, which is a lot more interesting than it probably sounds.
This unique documentary by first-time director Andrew Berends shines a spotlight on the war in Iraq, but it does so in a most unexpected way -- primarily through the eyes of a Baghdad resident whose brother is killed by American GIs one night while guarding a mosque. Ibrahim, the film's focal point, mourns his sibling, Ra'ad, along with thousands of fellow Iraqis who decry another needless death at the hands of soldiers they thought were on their side. Ra'ad was not the enemy, his friends and loved ones say angrily and often; Ra'ad was just a guy doing his civic duty in a nervous, trigger-happy place where every move is suspect.
If someone is ``aiming a weapon that could kill me, I'm going to kill him," one nameless US soldier admits on camera. ``That's what I do."
The soldier's words are not specific to the circumstances of Ra'ad's death, but they're powerful enough to cause chills, even if you view them as an understandable frontline stance. Ibrahim's dramatically altered young life can be seen as the fallout of such mission statements. As the survivor, he's condemned to trying to fill the sudden void left by his more grown - up older brother -- a portrait photographer who had just opened his own shop (under a mound of debt, it turns out).
Ibrahim thinks about joining the insurgents, but can't because he's saddled with taking care of his mother and sisters. He's angry. There are far too many Westerners sleeping comfortably while tanks and planes rule his country, he says. He agrees with the general sentiment heard increasingly in the streets: ``We had one dictator. Now we have a bunch of dictators."
``The Blood of My Brother" combines an insider's perspective with what can only be described as gutsy cinematography. Berends, who also shot 2003's adventurous ``Urk," holds his camera steady in the face of firefights, dangerous interview situations, intense mayhem, and routine animal sacrifice. He sometimes strands his images to the point that they feel at best unnecessary and at worst gratuitous, but even when the bloody windshield and the burning vehicle don't seem to add up to anything more than random photo op s, they at least hold your interest until the next intimate moment reveals a side of this conflict that you hadn't seen on the news.
Berends's documentary works for the most part because it has a fresh point of view and worthwhile things to say about the individual value of overlooked masses in a war zone. Perhaps that's why average Iraqi citizens are fully named in this film, while Western military types come and go as unidentified talking heads. ``The Blood of My Brother" is about giving voice to those who are not generally counted as casualties. In today's Iraq, that's the better part of everybody.