Film Review: In My Mother's Arms

Gripping documentary about Iraqi orphans should bring attention to a neglected population.
Reviews

In My Mother’s Arms concerns the lives of 32 orphaned boys who reside together and are cared for by a courageous activist named Mr. Husham. Shooting on an obviously small budget, co-directing brothers Atia and Mohamed Al-Daradji ably tell their story. One hopes it will be seen thanks to good word of mouth.

Filmed just before many of the U.S. troops left Iraq, In My Mother’s Arms begins with the charismatic Husham Al Thabe as he searches for and finds homeless youngsters in the bombed-out Al-Sadr section of Bagdad. Later moments feature Husham attempting to get help from the government and raise money from potential donors. Eventually, the documentary follows a handful of the boys (including Saif Slaam and Mohamed Wae), examining how they get along from day to day. There are scenes at both the bustling two-bedroom orphanage and in the busy streets, which still hold danger for all Iraqi citizens.

The most moving section concerns the traumatized Saif’s coming to terms with the loss of his mother and how Husham and Saif’s friend achieve this breakthrough with Saif by sharing the song that gives the film its title.

In cinéma-vérité style without voiceover narration, In My Mother’s Arms gives an immediacy and gritty reality to a painful and sad subject. But thanks to the faith of the filmmakers in Husham and the bravery and resourcefulness of Husham and the children, the Al-Daradji brothers suggest glimmers of hope for the future.

The directors’ larger indictment of war and imperialism will emerge keenly to those aware of the history of the American occupation. Since the film portrays only a minor presence of the U.S. military and mentions the invasion infrequently (pointedly, in a radio broadcast at the beginning), others might lose the larger context while still finding the experience significant as a cinematic cry for help for the most innocent victims of all armed conflict.