x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Son of Babylon

Berlin film festival The devastation caused by war has been a popular backdrop for movies since the Italian neorealists captured life after the Second World War.

Yasser Talib in <i>Son of Babylon</i>.
Yasser Talib in Son of Babylon.

The devastation caused by war has been a popular backdrop for movies since the Italian neorealists captured life after the Second World War. The recent conflicts in the Middle East have seen several efforts inspired by Italian neo-realism and, as with the Lebanon-set Catherine Deneuve vehicle Je Veux Voir, Son of Babylon uses the opportunities thrown up by the conventions of the road movie to take a look at a country devastated by war. This time it's Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. On the radio there is news that some prisoners of war have been found alive in the South. Hearing the news, a grandmother (Shazada Hussein) decides to search for her son, who was arrested by the Republican Guard. She drags her 12-year-old grandson, Ahmed (Yasser Talib), from their northern hometown as they hitch across the country, over the potholes, in the hope that they will discover that her son is alive. Shooting in Iraq and using non-professional actors, the director Mohamed al Daradji (Ahlam) does an amazing job of both capturing a broken country reeling from the damaging effects of the American invasion and life under Saddam Hussein. There is a poignant mix of humanity and sadness as the unlikely travelling companions cross the country. Like Christopher Hampton's Imagining Argentina, the film wants to investigate the plethora of people that go "missing" under a dictatorship, but whereas that film felt trite, Son of Babylon successfully combines a political message with a riveting narrative and beautiful cinematography.