Son of Babylon (2010)






THE SCOOP
Director:  Mohamed Al Daradji
Cast:  Shazada HusseinYasser TalibBashir Al Majid
Plot:  A willful young boy follows his just as obstinate grandmother in a journey across Iraq, determined to discover the fate of her missing son, Ahmed's father, who never returned from war.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Peace Film Award & Amnesty International Film Prize (Berlin); Nom. for Grand Jury Prize (Sundance).
Runtime:  100min
Rating:  PG for some mature themes.

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: MILD)

Winning a couple of awards at the 2010 Berlin Film Festival, this Iraqi film is a heartbreaking look at the consequence of war on the people whose sons were forced to fight in.  Told through the sad eyes of a grandmother and her grandson, Ahmed, the film easily tugs at the heartstrings of viewers, who would be fairly impacted by its emotional power as felt through the strong performances of the two leads.

In the quest to find his missing father, the resourceful Ahmed and his resolute grandmother trek by foot, and hitch the occasional ride by truck across the hot, arid desert environment of Iraq, moving from one location to another to enquire about the whereabouts of the father.  Twelve years were what separated the family when the father was forced to become a soldier to fight for Saddam during the war Iraq was involved in during the early 1990s.

Shot in the actual Iraqi landscape during the early 2000s when the U.S. was occupying the country, Son of Babylon is like a time capsule of images of a nation devastated by an unjust war.  Even though shot as if the camera is trailing these two characters as they witness and experience the effects of war, Daradji’s film is not a documentary (even though it looks like one, barring a narrator) but a visual document of the humanitarian issues facing not only Iraq today, but also other nations whose civilians have been or are affected by war.

One scene in the film brings a powerful jolt to our senses:  Ahmed finds himself alone in a mass grave that has been dug.  He squats and sees a human skull protruding out from the soil. He moves his palm close and rests it on the skull.  A layer of sand becomes stuck to his palm, and he brings it to his cheek.  Is his curiously subtle action a sign of acceptance that his father is long gone and it is pointless to search anymore?  A scene later shows his grandmother crying uncontrollably, and we see Ahmed trying to console her.

This “emotional maturation” of Ahmed is one of the key (albeit implicit) themes of Son of Babylon.  It is significant because his character’s feelings toward his father changes dramatically – from one of anger (for not being there to support him), to sadness (of his missing father), to acceptance (of his father’s death). 

The realization of truth as harshly unchangeable is what binds people with a common loss as exemplified in the short scene between the grandmother (who speaks Kurdish) and an Arab-speaking widow, the latter being able to feel for the former’s loss even though they do not understand each other.

Son of Babylon is more than a road movie about the bonding between grandmother and grandson as they search for a missing loved one.  It is a humanistic story about the human cost of war.  There seems to be no end to violence and destruction, no time for closure, no time to mourn the dead before another war starts.

GRADE: B+







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