Son Of Babylon
Mohamed Al-Daradji’s second feature is a quietly political effort and almost documentary-like in its approach. If you’re after some indictment of the war then you won’t find it here. Instead we get a persuasive comment on the damage done by a fascist dictatorship and the chaos of the future.
Son of Babylon follows Ahmed and his ageing grandmother through an almost post-apocalyptic-looking Iraq two weeks after the invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power. This bare, chaotic, fragile environment provides a meditation on the death of hope and the horrors of the past. It is a curious angle and one that packs a powerful punch. As the end legends announce, over one million Iraqis and Kurds disappeared during the thirty-year Baathist party rule with mass graves being uncovered all the time. One scene of a mother lying amongst the dust and bones of skeletal remains crying out for her son is a shocking image.
Al-Daradji provides exquisite use of framing and delivers landscape shots in 35mm widescreen. Yet the beauty of the photography clashes with the terribly sad story of one family’s quest to search for a missing father/son. The aesthetic approach attempts to imbue a poetic realism to proceedings. It might be an obvious tactic, but it works.
Young Ahmed and his grandmother endure a hard journey to southern Iraq in the hope they will discover the person they seek. As standard road movie narratives play out the two travellers meet various figures along the way.
Ahmed starts the film as a wide-eyed innocent and ends being taught a harsh lesson. He talks constantly about the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Iraqi’s glorious ancient past whilst seemingly oblivious to recent history. When he sees the fabled gardens they are nothing but ruins in the sand.
Perhaps in this post-war world Iraqi cinema will finds its true voice and gain a worldwide reputation to rival its neighbour Iran. Indeed Al-Daradji’s keenly personal take on this subject matter recalls the lyricism and poetry of Samira Makhmalbaf and other respected Iranian directors. Son of Babylon is a step forward into a new future.