Focusing on a makeshift orphanage for 32 young boys in Baghdad whose parents have died since America blessed their country with freedom and democracy, Atia and Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji's In My Mother's Arms is absorbingly subdued. The co-directors/brothers are also observers in the truest sense of the word, often shooting their subjects from afar so as to allow for the utmost naturalism and staying on seemingly mundane scenes for long stretches of time. There's background chatter from the children; concerned looks and gestures from Husham, the volunteer caretaker forced to find a new location for the home after getting the boot from his landlord; and an abundance of traumatized faces, but rarely is there much noise. It's the sort of handheld, long-take realism a great many action films of late have aimed for to varying results, and it's engaging—at times, even quietly enthralling—throughout. There's no expert testimony, no emotional pleas to the viewer to get out there and do his or her part, just the children themselves, one of whom has no memories of his mother other than her name. (Another's trauma has left him incapable of speech.) The filmmakers forego any unearned sense of resolution or catharsis in favor of a sustained focus on individual moments whose implications are clear enough: Husham's efforts might be a drop in the bucket, but that only makes them more worthy of documenting, perhaps even celebrating.
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