Directed by Mohamed Al Daradji, Atia Al Daradji. PG. 82 min. Opens Aug 31.
Thirty-two is a crowd in In My Mother’s Arms, an Iraqi/Dutch/English co-production that takes a look at a makeshift orphanage in the centre of war-torn Baghdad. Owned and operated by a private citizen named Mr. Husham, it’s a modest two-bedroom structure literally overrun by underage inhabitants whose backstories would seem Dickensian if they weren’t so tied to the contemporary problems of the region. Their parents have been lost to the violence of war and its fallout—including suicide bombings—and while the sheer mass of humanity huddled in Mr. Husham’s house seems overwhelming, it’s a proverbial drop in the bucket considering that some estimate as many as five million children have been orphaned in Iraq since 2003.
Fortunately, the filmmakers don’t ask this group of nearly three dozen kids to stand in for an entire generation: The children are considered as individual subjects, although it’s clear that the filmmakers are most taken with Mr. Husham, who slips snugly into the role of an underdog hero, keeping his operation afloat despite having no government assistance. He’s also criticized for not bringing in any women caregivers to help out his staff, which is of course easier said than done. Consequently, the film’s title, which refers to a remembered lullaby, is rendered poignantly ironic by the lack of any nurturing female presence.
In My Mother’s Arms has a great subject, yet it’s not quite great filmmaking. Its rough, unvarnished visual style is pretty standard-issue for the current cycle of Iraq War documentaries, and the storytelling is occasionally shapeless and slack. Co-directors Mohamed and Atia Al Daradji show a knack for keeping out of the way, however, which is no easy feat considering the filming conditions.