×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Son of Babylon

An Iraqi drama that recalls the parable-making of late 20th-century Iranian cinema.

With:
(Arabic, Kurdish dialogue)

Visually ravishing and politically earnest, “Son of Babylon” is a road movie that sometimes lacks a road, and an Iraqi drama that recalls the parable-making of late 20th-century Iranian cinema. Watching the journey of young Ahmed and his sorrowful grandmother, one would be hard pressed not to be thinking Kiarostami, Panahi and Majidi, and the metaphorical conceits of lost shoes and balloons. But helmer Mohamed al-Daradji’s characters are pursuing just one lost man, while al-Daradji chases a poetic answer for the crimes of Saddam Hussein. Arthouse theatrical play seems likely, if limited.

Experience has told us that characters in Middle Eastern cinema wear a bit more of their emotions on their sleeves than their Western counterparts, and as we watch young Ahmed (Yasser Taleeb) and his grandmother, Um-Ibrahim (Shezhad Hussein) go in search of the boy’s father, the obstacles they face along the way evoke disparate reactions — catatonia and hysteria.

Retitling the film “Crouching Grandma, Screaming Youngster” wouldn’t be entirely off, as Ahmed does becomes a bit shrill. But their quest is sad and noble: It’s three weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein, and they are on an almost clueless pursuit of Ahmed’s father, a Kurd imprisoned since the first Gulf War who hasn’t been heard from since. The chance of his having survived his time in prison is bleak. That knowledge informs the entire journey.

Like similar Huck-and-Jim-type adventures (Takeshi Kitano’s “Kikujiro” comes to mind) the storyline here is meant to illuminate both the interpersonal and the universal. This it does, through a catalog of misadventures, mishaps and meaningful encounters — the most meaningful being their temporary alliance with Musa (the wonderful, doe-eyed Bashir al-Majid), who helps the pair to an extent that suggests atonement — and, when that is shown to be the case, the three-way relationship gets flipped, to great dramatic effect.

Son of Babylon” is elegiac; the evocation of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the land’s mythic glory, contrasts dramatically with the country’s ravaged present, made worse by the countless bodies and mass graves that have been discovered since 2003, and with them the extent of Saddam Hussein’s crimes against his people (not excluding the Kurds). “Son of Babylon” may spin its wheels occasionally, but al-Daradji’s ability to marry poetry to agitprop is admirable.

Production values are first-rate, especially the sound, by Glenn Freemantle.

Son of Babylon

U.K.-Iraq-France

Production: A Human Film (U.K.)/Iraq al-Rafidian (Iraq)/CRM-114 (France) presentation, in association with the U.K. Film Council, Screen Yorkshire, Sundance Film Institute. (International sales: Roissy Films, Paris.) Produced by Isabelle Stead, Atia al-Daradji, Mohamed al-Daradji, Dimitri de Clercq. Executive producers, Antonia Bird, Nashwa al-Ruwaini, Hugo Heppell. Co-producers, Daniel Evans, Rashid Masharawi, Bader Ben Hirsi. Directed by Mohamed al-Daradji. Screenplay, Jennifer Norridge, Mohamed al-Daradji, Mithal Ghazi.

Crew: Camera (color), Mohamed al-Daradji, Duraid al-Munajim; editors, Pascale Chavance, Mohamed Jbara; music, Kad Achouri, supervising sound editor (Dolby 5.1 SRD), Glenn Freemantle. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Jan. 20, 2010 (In Sundance Film Festival -- World Cinema, competing; Berlin Film Festival -- Panorama; 2009 Middle East Film Festival.) Running time: 91 MIN.

Cast: (Arabic, Kurdish dialogue)

More Scene

  • Nicole KidmanWarner Bros. Pictures World Premiere

    How James Wan Convinced Nicole Kidman to Star in 'Aquaman'

    While some actors dream of playing a superhero, that wasn’t the case for the cast of “Aquaman.” “I knew nothing about this,” Amber Heard, who plays Mera in the James Wan-directed action film, told Variety at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere. “I knew nothing about comic books in general. I didn’t know anything about this [...]

  • Hugh Jackman'To Kill a Mockingbird' Broadway

    'To Kill a Mockingbird's' Starry Opening: Oprah, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and More

    The Shubert Theatre in New York City last was filled on Thursday night with Oscar winners, media titans, and, of course, Broadway legends who came out for the opening of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The starry guest list included Oprah Winfrey, Barry Diller, “Les Misérables” co-stars Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Gayle King, [...]

  • Clint Eastwood and Alison Eastwood'The Mule'

    Clint Eastwood: Why Alison Eastwood Came Out of Acting Retirement for Her Dad

    Clint Eastwood’s daughter Alison Eastwood was done with acting after appearing in 2014’s “Finding Harmony.” Or so she thought. It was a Friday night and she and her husband were heading to dinner when her father’s producer Sam Moore called. “He [says], ‘You know, your dad wants you to do this film,” Alison recalls. “I [...]

  • John CenaSports Illustrated Sportsperson of the

    John Cena on WWE's Acceptance by Hollywood and the Professional Sports World

    John Cena says the WWE is finally getting the attention it deserves by Hollywood and the professional sports world. “I’m just glad that no longer are we looked down upon, not only by the sport industry, but by the performing arts industry,” Cena told Variety on Tuesday night in Beverly Hills at Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of [...]

  • Steve Carell Welcome to Marwen

    Steve Carell on New Film 'Welcome to Marwen' and Reprising His 'Anchorman' Character

    In 2000, Mark Hogancamp was nearly beaten to death by five men outside of a bar. Left with brain damage and little money to afford therapy, Hogancamp began creating miniature doll versions of himself, his friends, and his attackers as a way to cope. This true story inspired the 2010 documentary “Marwencol” and the upcoming [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content