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Son Of Babylon

Son Of Babylon

By Dominic Walker • December 9th, 2012
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
Iraq Al-Rafidain

Original release: February 17th, 2011
Running time: 90 minutes

Country of origin Iraq
Original language Arabic & Kurdish

Director: Mohamed Al Daradji
Writers: Mohamed Al-Daradji, Mithal Ghazi, Jennifer Norridge

Cast: Shazada Hussein, Yasser Talib

Son Of Babylon

Iraq is a country orphaned and widowed by forty years of war and genocide in Son of Babylon, the first feature film made in Iraq since the American-led invasion in 2003, and the fourth by esteemed Iraqi-Dutch director Mohamed Al Daradji, who escaped to Holland from his homeland in 1995 and later studied film in England.

It begins three weeks after the fall of Saddam, though for all the indifferent desolation of the desert it could, but for some incongruous pylons dividing the landscape, be any week since the Fall of Man. A little boy and his grandmother shuffle wearily across the interminable geography like a hallucination in the hot quivering air. A panoramic sequence takes in their terrible isolation, agoraphobia echoing the triviality of individual life so appallingly conspicuous a feature of the recent history of this afflicted country.

The companions have the slow stooping nomadic bearing of those for whom the destination is unthinkably remote. It is indeed 500 miles to theirs: a prison where they hope to find Ahmed’s father, who they believe was captured and imprisoned by Hussein’s Baathist party during the first Gulf War. Their journey begins auspiciously, with two unexpected kindnesses facilitating their search and counter-pointing the black smoke and animal desperation they witness in smouldering Baghdad.

Son Of Babylon

The child is a miracle of cheerful resilience and a constant comfort to his grandmother who’s stricken by the trauma of twelve years of uncertainty about the fate of her child. Between episodes of sudden delirium and spells of unreachable melancholy, she finds some repose in a heroic devotion to her grandson. There are several scenes of great tenderness between them, not least of which transpires as she washes him in anticipation of the reunion with his father. But met with bitterest disappointment, their thoughts are forced to turn to the profusion of mass graves that are discovered with chilling frequency as the story staggers to an end.

The film is shot with austerity and patience befitting to the environment and subject. Everything’s bleached and tired with the sun, and everyone is seen slowly trudging about as if the world had ended, which no doubt it had more or less for many people- most of whom, the film points out, were probably women or children. It’s the living who are left to suffer. There’s no noun for a bereaved parent (as there are for bereaved Son of Babylonchildren and spouses), perhaps because until fairly recently the loss of a child was too commonplace to necessitate distinction in language, or perhaps, as some have needed to suggest, because this suffering somehow defies designation.

Son of Babylon wants to show us that suffering, but also to show us the faint coruscation of occasional hope in kindness, in common mourning and, as the title hints, in myth and history. Like many beleaguered itinerant heroes, Ahmed and his grandmother console one other with a story of better times. The magnificence of Babylon, the ruins of which can be found just 55 miles from the ruins of Baghdad, is frequently evoked. Ahmed is enchanted by the legend of the Hanging Gardens, built- as the tale goes- for a Queen who sought the respite of water in a desiccated land.

This is the paradise that they need to cope with their destitution; it’s the Eden from which they are cast into such misery. The modesty and sensitivity of the filmmaking combined with its subject somehow discourages critical scrutiny- though this is not to imply that there are any notable shortcomings which I might be respectfully reluctant to disclose. It just keeps you at the distance of real life; it can’t help but seem more than a movie.

This is a country we’ve seen burning on the news for eight years. It will have to suffice to say that Al Daradji has made an important and upsetting film which will reward your compassion.

Dominic Walker

Dominic Walker

Dominic is an English graduate, promiscuous dilettante and epistemological liability. He likes the sentimentalisation of loathsomeness, fetishized Teutonic Romanticism, the labour theory of value and Manchester United’s transcendent Bulgarian striker, Dimitar Berbatov. He abominates Certainty, curses The Wealth of Nations, and detests only mayonnaise more than asinine bathetic turns.

His favourite kinds of film are laborious, unyielding, laboriously unyielding, anything you’ve never heard of, and pornographic. At twenty-three, his achievements include A Spectroscopic Study of the Notion of Perineum in Jane Austen’s Later-Early Period, for which he won a MOBO award, and this sentence.

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