Son of Babylon

Issue section: 
(355)

Director: Mohamed Al Daradji, Release date: 11 February

Mohamed Al Daradji's Son of Babylon tells the bleak story of a young boy in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, as demanding an environment to survive in as before the "coalition of the willing" toppled the statue of Saddam, and his search for his "missing" father.

It's notable as it's the first film, along with Lucy Walker's Waste Land, to win a joint Amnesty International Film Award. This should be enough to capture your attention and suggest that it's a captivating piece with big issues, even if they're treated in a stylised manner.

In 100 minutes of saturated colour it presents a tale in which the key theme is isolation. Long shots establish Ahmed and his grandmother in an arid, deserted landscape. There's the sense that the relationship lacks any real affection. Then, as the bus carries Ahmed off, you get a sense of his fate.

Attaching himself to the cigarette-seller Qasim, a rogue named Musa and, more importantly, the memory of his father, Ahmed runs amid mass graves, refusing to accept his father's death.

There is, however, humanity, which is expertly shown. A montage of Iraqi civilians on the bus back to Baghdad, with faces lost in thought and reflection, contrasts with their threatening conditions and the confrontational forces they meet when entering both Baghdad and Nasiriyah. Helicopters patrol the skies, while squalor and conflict reign on the ground. Armed US soldiers and live-fire warfare are their welcome. The US soldiers remain faceless - as separate from the viewer as from those they are charged to protect.

The conflicting role of the US soldiers is clear. There is the insinuation that they have killed innocent civilians in the region, but also a palpable sense of hope. This hope is, however, eroded with each passing coffin. The film also focuses on the bloody repression of the Kurds by Saddam's regime, which means that the film is in no sense US-centric. It gives a flavoursome perspective of Iraq, raising several issues that have affected the country and its people.

The soundtrack is by Kad Achouri, an apt choice as he has spoken out against both consumerism and the Iraq war. His haunting score further frames Ahmed's isolation, despite the boy's hope for affection. Unlike the two-way Amnesty award, Son of Babylon will be considered on its own terms for the 2011 Academy Awards, where it has been nominated in the best Foreign Language Film category. We can but hope.