Set in the hazardous district of Al-Sadr in downtown Baghdad, Atia and Mohamed Al Daradji’s heart-wrenching 2011 documentary In My Mother’s Arms follows the story of unlikely hero Husham Al Thabe, who works tirelessly to improve the lives of thirty Iraqi orphans. Shot with a modest handheld camera, the sibling directors capture the action with pathos and passion as we see the tragic conditions of a ramshackle boy’s orphanage where children rescued from the streets are housed. Husham is a driven man who, whilst battling his wife – who berates him for not spending enough time with his own children – struggles with limited funds and resources.
Children recount the endless suffering they’ve been forced to face in state institutions in interviews that melt the soul, predominantly shot in the crammed stop-gap orphanage. Each tale comes with its own unique misfortune, including one particularly moving tale of a child who can no longer remember his mother’s face, desperately repeating her name to keep her memory alive. Throughout, we return to the melancholic song after which the film is named, showing that the little Husham can do to improve the children’s lives is a mere drop in the ocean. The two directors follows the increasingly tired Husham along the streets, diving out of the way of cars as he picks up as waifs and strays.
The documentary divides itself in two, the focus oscillating between the life of Husham and the children who recount their past experiences in one of twenty four state institutions or as urchins on the street. This, whilst arresting, leaves many aspects of the story untold, raising numerous questions. To have provided a less partisan account would have only served the documentary better as well as giving some wider context of the situation beyond the stats in the opening credits.
As a piece of factual filmmaking, there’s little denying the emotive power of Atia and Mohamed Al Daradji’s In My Mother’s Arms, submerging you into Husham’s plight – making you feel as if you’re in the room with the man. Sadly for those suffering on-screen, more questions are raised than answered in what is a technically crude, yet compelling example of on-the-hoof storytelling.
In My Mother’s Arms screens as part of the DocHouse strand at London’s Lexi Cinema on 21 February, 2013, and we’re giving away a pair of tickets to see the film on our Twitter page. For more info, visit dochouse.org.