In My Mother's Arms: Film Review

Rough-hewn but deeply affecting documentary about a makeshift Iraqi orphanage.

Atia and Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji's doc chronicles the desperate efforts of one person to provide a safe haven for 32 orphan boys.

Content trumps style in In My Mother’s Arms, a rough-hewn but heartbreaking documentary about a makeshift Iraqi orphanage. Atia and Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji’s film chronicling the desperate efforts of one concerned citizen to provide a safe haven for 32 orphan boys suffers from disjointed storytelling and primitive production values. But few will fail to be moved by this portrait of selflessness in the face of near insurmountable odds.

The film’s hero is Husham Al Thabe, who runs the shelter in his own two-bedroom home in the dangerous Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Sadr, without government support. A procession of sobering statistics makes clear the daunting odds he faces, including that the long war has resulted in the creation of some 800,000 orphans, with only approximately two dozen state orphanages to shelter them. Besides the rampant crime, poverty and violence endemic to the region, the youngsters are also vulnerable to recruitment by Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations.

Interspersing scenes of Husham and his half-dozen volunteer helpers coping with various crises and desperately looking for private funding in the threat of impending eviction are portraits of several of their young charges, including ten-year-old Salah, so traumatized by past events that he can neither speak nor attend school. Another, seven-year-old Saif, can’t remember anything about his dead mother and takes solace only in singing the mournful song that gives the film its title.

Although haphazardly shot and edited, the film nonetheless provides a vividly desolate portrait of a society too fractured and corrupt to properly care for its most helpless among them.

Opened Oct. 8
Production: Human Film, Iraq Al-Rafidain
Directors: Atea Al Daradji, Mohamed Al-Dardji
Producer: Isabelle Stead
Editors: Mohamed Al-Daradji, Ian Watson
Not rated, 82 min.