Cert - 12
Run time -
Genre - Drama
Country - Iraq
Awards - One Oscar Nomination
Even today, ten years on, I still can't believe we invaded Iraq. It has to be the most disgusting act by Britain since the first time our mechanised military was unleashed in the Middle East, the then War Minister Winston Churchill ordering mustard gas to be dropped on Iraqi civilians from biplanes to clear public demonstrations against the British armies presence. Yes, we used WMD in Iraq first. The damage we have caused there since has been horrendous, backing Saddam in the 1980s not our proudest moment, removing him even worse, somewhat ironic. War is always about extracting resources from one country to empower another and so know their place. You don't bomb countries from 40,000ft to save the people from dictators but to put another dictator in who will give you all the contracts to rebuild the country you just bombed.
Before we invaded, Iraq was a secular country under Saddam and the old despot had clamed down a bit, the war between the Shiia's and Baathist all rather quiet, all regions allowed to practice without being blown up. The problems began when Saddam was preparing to sell oil to the EU in Euros, empowering the rest of the Middle East if they followed, all but destroying the dollar if he had, the US currency pegged to all oil sales. The dossier Saddam presented to the UN weapons inspectors to try and stop the attack at the last was quickly discredited by the Americans but turned out to be 100% accurate. It was printed on a UN photocopier and proved there were no WMDs in existence. This was a genuine war crime by Bush and Blair and there are few people left able to speak out on what really happened in Iraq.
One man who has chosen to document things amongst the chaos is director Mohamed Al-Daradji, Variety's Magazine Middle Eastern Filmmaker of the year, a worthy award. This powerful but warm and funny film, considering its topics, looks at the countries broken heart and the search for its soul, told through the eyes of an impovershied grandmother and her grandson. It's not a war movie in any way, even though the war was raging when Daradji bravely decided to make the film in his beloved Iraq, a film that nearly didn't get made. Security checks, extras running off in fear, actors not getting paid and nearby suicide bomb attacks were some of the reasons this only just made it to the screen. Of the 275 cinemas in Iraq before the west invaded, just 40 remain, mostly empty in fear of those bombs, a run down theatre used to show soft backstreet porn the only one available for his premier, which thankfully went ahead without an atrocity.
Shazada Hussein ... Um Ibrahim
Yasser Talib ... Ahmed
Bashir Al Majid ... Musa
Mohammed Saris ...Tariq
We are in Northern Iraq in the year of 2003, weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, 12-year-old Ahmed (Yasser Talib) begrudgingly following his Kurdish God-fearing grandmother (Shazada Hussein) on her journey south in search of her long lost son Babar, Ahmed's dad, her back as bent and strained as her broken land. On hearing news that prisoners of war have been found alive in the south by the coalition troops, she is determined to discover his fete. After hitching a ride with a farmer, Tariq (Mohammed Saris), near the mountains of her Kurdistan home, they soon cross paths with fellow pilgrims, on all too similar journeys.
Ahmed is a precocious kid, none the wiser where his father is and struggling to understand his grandmother's pain and journey, the flute he carries the only memento of dad. He never knew his father but grandma tells him he may be in Nasiriyah Jail in the centre of the country, their destination. But when they arrive the American Cruise missiles have beaten them to it, the prison a wreck and inmates long since gone, Ahmed's dad not on the list of previous residents.
As they head back to Baghdad on a rusty old bus they meet a man called Musa (Bashir Al Majid), an ex Republican Guard, but reformed and kindly to them. The prison staff, rather ominously, recommended they head south to the mass graves near the marshlands to continue their search, one-and-a-half-million believed to have been killed by Saddams goons, rotting under Iraq's swamps and deserts, the part of the odyssey grandmother didn't want to make. But Grandma promised to take him to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon because his father never could and he will hold her to that as they near the cradle of civilization.
With lots of wailing Arabic movie and atmospheric sweeping camera shots of deserts, general aridness and enigmatic mountains, Son of Babylon is a film for the pathos of the people, by the people, only four paid actors on the whole project. It's a film that unashamedly shows Iraqis to be humble and noble people and in awe of their God and heritage and no time for Saddam and the American invaders, propaganda of sorts. What the director doesn't want to touch on is the Civil War raging between Shiia and Baathist for as long as Iraq has existed, why the west backed Saddam to put a lid on it in the first place. There is a certain shame in Arabia that they are always under the thumb of a western backed dictator and even the Arab Spring couldn't rid them off that stigma as they voted in another kind of dictator, Fundamentalist Islam. Oh how the Americans loved that! Wikileaks cables have revealed that although America were publicly in favour of the Arab uprising, in secret they backed the sitting despots to keep the people under the thumb and so the Muslim Brotherhoods out of power, anti capitalism the true fear.
It was cheap to make at $2 million dollars but, as I said, a tricky shoot, the cast just as likely to step on an IED as being shot up by an American checkpoint. It shows in the actors and unpaid extras faces. Needless to say it barely made a Sheckle as there were no Iraqi cinemas to show it and Americans still believe there were WMD in Iraq and so not about to be sympathetic to Iraq by watching arty movies like this about the people they were seriously messing up again. It's a nice film though, well made and delightful in its own way. Prodigal filmmakers tend to have a romantic ideal of their country and end up making homely films, which is admirable, I think.
This won't appeal to many, very much for those that like thoughtful foreign film and the likewise digital TV channels, subtitles and coffee breaks all the way. But for all those idiots that thought there was WMD in Iraq and backed the war, your penance should be to watch films like this to get a more rounded perspective on what we have actually done out there, although I suspect those people don't watch Film4. We always perceive third world foreigners as somehow inferior to us, when in fact they just are better people with far more humility and forgiveness, as witnessed in the Son of Babylon.
Imdb.com - 7.2 /10.0 (425 votes)
Rottentomatos.com - 100% critics approval rating
The Guardian - "It's a sensitive, stoical, compassionate film with a subtle feel for the detail of everyday life in this shattered land".
The Times - "Al Daradji directs with a sure hand, avoiding icy realism and chest-beating melodrama. The result is warm, human and quietly devastating"
The NY Post -"The road trip device may be a familiar one but it is a choice that broadens the appeal and accessibility of the film and takes it away from more political machinations into the realm of simpler storytelling".
The LA Times - "The road trip device may be a familiar one but it is a choice that broadens the appeal and accessibility of the film and takes it away from more political machinations into the realm of simpler storytelling".