Return to the Land of Wonders

In the aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein, filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi (Iranian Journey) accompanied her father back to Iraq, her birthplace over thirty-five years ago. Pachachi wanted to see what Iraq was really like, and she was in a unique position to do so. As a native, she has a greater command of the language and easier access to places that Westerners do not. Moreover, her father Adnan Pachachi served in the government in the late sixties, and was also a member of the Governing Council set up by the United States. Return to the Land of Wonders veers unevenly between three things; Pachachi talking to ordinary citizens about their post-war lives, Pachachi visiting the places she grew up, and a glimpse into the government as they begin the process that may result in a Bill of Rights.

Because Pachachi tries to cram so much into so little time, Return does not have a cohesive feel to it. Any one of these topics, if explored more in-depth, would be a good documentary. Touching upon each one peripherally does not give a greater sense of scope. Instead, the film feels rushed scattered. Pachachi looking into her past was potentially the most moving story. At one point she visits a large mosque, the site of the largest brick arch in the world. As a child, her family picnicked there. Now, after multiple wars, the already decaying structure looks even more decrepit. Unfortunately, this is the part of the film that gets the least attention. Just by being herself, Pachachi is a link to the past, when life was much better for everybody.

Voices of Iraq does a better job of looking at life for ordinary Iraqis than this film. So does Gunner Palace, although this film is from the standpoint of the ordinary American soldier. There is a haphazard feel to the way that Pachachi seems to interview people. For the most part, she tries to focus less on politics and more on life in general. The best conversation she has here is with a vendor who tells her that Iraq is where she belongs. She may have lived in another country for decades but in her heart, she is Iraqi, and will feel like an alien everywhere else. This man had a spirit missing from the rest of her film. It is a good connection to her reminiscing about her childhood, but this man was the only person she interviewed who said something memorable.

The other scenes are short interviews with her father and other government officials, or even a bit of a few government officials discussing/debating. Adnan Pachachi wants to make a lasting Bill of Rights. He truly believes that this will be something that will help the Iraqi people, and it is frustrating come up against the many roadblocks against this. Eventually, you see what Pachachi was going for. The theme running through Return to the Land of Wonders comes from the title. She is examining the dreams of her father, her countrymen, and herself in trying to rebuild the Iraq they grew up with and loved. It is a good idea, but her execution of it is a bit spotty.

Gerf Rates It: Not That Good.
1 hour, 28 minutes, Arabic and English with English subtitles, Not Rated but would probably be a PG-13

Back to Movies