Throughout the month of March, Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center is presenting a festival of 61 films from the European Union made in the the past couple of years. As time permits, I will be writing short reviews of those films I manage to see at this festival.

Director Nick Broomfield's 25th film in more than 30 years is also only his second work of fiction, so it's not entirely surprising to learn that Battle for Haditha began life as a documentary. The facts are these: on November 19, 2005, in the Iraqi city of Haditha, by then held by coalition forces, 24 Iraqi civilians were killed by US Marines. Most and perhaps all of these individuals were noncombatant civilians. The Marines involved have since been investigated for murder, allegedly motivated by the death of one of their own in an IED explosion. The director started out to make a straightforward fact-based study of this event, before deciding that a dramatic version of the story would be more conducive to his goals.

Broomfield's film can only be called speculative, dramatising events that would be unknowable even if they were true. However, it never exploits or abuses its subject along the way; indeed, it is one of the most even-handed and delicate films yet made about the current Iraq War. Some of the Iraqis are innocent homeowners, or even children; but some are ruthless terrorists who dismiss the deaths of those innocents as martyrdom. There are bloodthirsty Marines, and Marines who weep for their sins, and sometimes these are one and the same. The most memorable image by far in the film is of the closest we have to a protagonist, Marine Corporal Ramirez (Elliot Ruiz), a man who earlier berated the soldiers under his command for getting emotional over their lost comrades, breaking down in an endlessly long take as he confronts all the lives on both sides for which he feels personally responsible.

The most apolitical film yet made about the conflict would be a British production, wouldn't it? I don't mean to say that it's ambivalent about the war's morality - it's surely anti-war - but it recognises no absolutes, frankly showcasing villainy on every side, but nobility and sometimes heroism as well. It does good by that creaky old idea, "even-handedness," which often ends up in the mushy middle but here comes off more like an honest admission that it's all too crazy over there to make sense of it.

Right down to its title, the film takes its cues from The Battle of Algiers, which by sheer coincidence I saw for the first time only a few days before this. Though they do not share a moral perspective (the earlier film is entirely unafraid to pick sides), they are structurally very similar: using a cast of amateurs and no particular narrative through-line, and the techniques of documentary filmmaking to increase our sense of watching something real unfold before our eyes. Battle for Haditha has the fortune, if that's the word, to exist in the world of embedded war reportage, and much of the footage looks identical to the now-familiar shots of men in uniform bursting into buildings as the cameraman hustles in behind them. In this film's case, the same style is applied to the terrorist bombers, and it is through this technique more than anything else that we're given that wonderful moral ambiguity I've been going on about.

What's surprising about Broomfield's film is how much of it has nothing to do with the Haditha massacre at all, but instead just follows around the men and women who haven't yet been touched by the bombing. Most of the film takes place on November 18, when no lives have yet been taken, and everyone, Iraqi and Marine alike are just going through the regular, comfortable cycles of their lives. It's a simple and obvious thing to make the audience confront, face-to-face, the human cost of this and every war, but "simple and obvious" do not prevent it from being entirely effective.