Some films you just can’t rate. They are too personal, too heartbreaking and too true.
But when you go to film festivals, that’s what the audience is asked to do. Rate each movie on a basis of one (low) to five.
So what do you do about “Son of Babylon?” What’s imperfect ? What could have been done better? The scenery is as it is, the arid, rocky, dusty plains of central Iraq. The cinematography does not idealize the situation with sunsets and mood music. Though it takes place three weeks after the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein, it was filmed on location in 2008 and ’09 with American roadblocks, litter from recent bombings and ground moving tractors extricating skeleton fragments from mass graves engineered on order from Saddam’s regime.
As a matter of fact, the director’s crew abandoned production because of unsafe conditions, requiring Mohamed Al-Daradji, the director, producer and co-screen-writer, to use an all-Iraqi crew.
Is there any fault with the acting? There are three characters, chosen by Al-Daradji from a 6-month search in Iraq. Shazda Hussein was asked to play the grandmother who is searching for her son. She is not an actress but a woman who in real life has spent the last 22 years searching for her husband, arrested during the Gulf War. A wiry 10 year old boy who accompanies this grandmother on the search, is played by Yasser Talib, who has been praised by all reviewers for his candid, natural portrayal. The third and last part is played by Bashir Al-Majid, who befriends the searchers while suffering for being among the soldiers forced to kill Kurdish women and children in the same 1991 conflict when their loved one was captured.
If I could spot a weakness it would be that the 91-minute film is too long. Long stretches of time showing dirt, birds cluttering the skies and a monotonous time riding a bus from one location to another are extenuated. However, that experience by the viewer highlights the very reality of the situation. For the last 40 years, more than 1 million Iraqis have gone missing and their relatives have waited for their return.
The women wait faithfully, as tradition for a married woman dictates. Time slows down. There is no joy, trust or sense of industry. Life is on hold for these people who have no resolution to their search, as Hussein didn’t have records kept.
How do you rate a film like this?
Mohamed Al-Aradji, the director, had a letter he wrote from Iraq read before the screening began. He is presently involved in a group that works with searching and identifying those who have been unaccounted for and now presumed dead. He remarked that women like his lead who are looking for the remains of their dead, need this confirmation so that they can “have the courage to forgive.”
But this is also the story of Iraq, the now orphaned country without a government. The people are desperately searching for leadership and reunification to build up their country. They sacrifice and suffer as they doggedly plow on in search of a leader to make them strong and proud once again.
A very big congratulations goes to this Iraqi production team. More information and a chance to support Iraq’s missing person campaign is promoted by the director at: www.thepetitionsite.com/1/iraqs-missing-campaign.
“Son of Babylon” was the Iraqi entry at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival: www.siff.net. SIFF runs until June 13 and all five of the entries I have seen so far have been introspective masterpieces of the indie film industry. But on this one, I had to bypass the ballot box. The film’s topic was just too tender to rank with a number.
Director: Mohamed Al-Daradji
Genre: Political Drama
Length: 91 minutes
Language: Kurdish and Arabic with English or French subtitles
Cast: Yasser Talib, Shazda Hussein, Bashir Al-Majid
Director: Mohamed Al-Daradji
Producer: Isabelle Stead, Atia Al-Daradji, Mohamed Al-Daradji, Dimitri de Clercq
Editor: Pascale Chavance, Mohamed Jabarah
Screenwriter: Jennifer Norridge, Mohamed Al-Daradji, Mithal Ghazi
Cinematographer: Mohamed Al-Daradji, Duraid Al-Munajim
Awards: Berlin International Film Festival 2010 (Peace Film Award, Amnesty International Film Prize)
Note: Iraq’s entry into the Sundance Film Festival and the Edinburg Film Festival
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