PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Film

SF International Film Fest 2012: 'In My Mother's Arms' and 'Meanwhile in Mamelodi'

Meanwhile in Mamelodi

The brilliant documentaries In My Mother's Arms and Meanwhile in Mamelodi both show trauma and survival, reminding you of what might be.


In My Mother's Arms

Director: Mohamed Jabarah Al-Daradji, Atia Jabarah al-Daradji
Cast: Husham Al Thabe, Mohamed Wael, Saif Slaam, Salah Abass
Rated: NR
Studio: Human Film, Iraq Al Rafidain, Al-Jazeera English
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-04-26 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Website
Trailer

Meanwhile in Mamelodi

Director: Benjamin Kahlmeyer
Cast: Steven Mtsweni, Moskito Mtsweni
Rated: NR
Studio: Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg, Jolle-Film, SWR
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-01-04 (San Francisco International Film Festival)
Website
Trailer
You should be happy you knew your parents.

-- Mohamed Wael

For seven-year-old Saif Slaam, life is trauma. A Kurdish orphan in Baghdad, he's surrounded by ongoing chaos, in the streets, on television, and in his own memories. His eyes wide and red from crying, he's hurt when other boys call him "Majuda," his mother's name. He can't even remember his mother.

Saif doesn't say much else at the start of In My Mother's Arms. But if the boy's experience seems beyond words, this remarkable documentary -- screening this week at the San Francisco International Film Festival -- makes clear what's at stake, for him and for the 31 other orphans living with him in a two-bedroom rented house in the city's notorious Ali Sadr neighborhood. The man who looks after them, Husham Al-Dhbe, has no government support. Instead, he must cobble together funds from neighbors and occasional local businesses, each week another adventure in soliciting. Husham's wife resents that he spends so much time at the orphanage, his own young son and daughter hardly see him. And when he consults a doctor for advice on how to deal with the boys' "emotional problems," he's told he should provide female caretakers, an impossibility: the only volunteers he's found are six men. "We off the best we can," he says.

And yet, for all the pain so visible in the children's faces, In My Mother's Arms offers hope. In part, this emerges in relationships among the boys: Saif finds a friend and music teacher in Mohamed Wael, a former swim team champion, now a teenager feeling afraid. The film keeps close on the boy's face when Husham scolds him for teasing Saif at first, for not remembering his own past, how he felt when he lost his parents. Husham comes up with a strategy for helping the boys share their experiences. He invites a theater instructor to help them perform a play -- about lost mothers. For days Saif lies on the floor or cries or fights, his incredible eyes sometimes tearful, sometimes startled, always searching. When at last Saif takes the stage for a play about lost mothers, the audience members, all neighbors in the same grim neighborhood, are tearful, and then enthusiastic, applauding the performance, a first step out of trauma and into community and a sense of order.

As In My Mother's Arms observes this process, this movement from silence to art, from past to future, it resembles another film at the Festival, Meanwhile in Mamelodi, which follows a family living in Extension 11 in South Africa. "It's not a real city," explains 17-year-old Moskito Mtsweni as the film begins. "It's what we call a township, divided into many sections, like extensions and phases, just like in a science fiction movie." As she rides in her father Steven's pickup truck, the camera first shows them from a position mounted on the hood, a wide, warpy, jostling frame that does look a little out of this world.

Moskito and her dad share a devotion to football (soccer): she plays and he watches. The film is shot as 2010 World Cup is starting, just a few miles away. Moskito has a chance to attend one match at Loftus Stadium: the camera follows her as she makes her way inside, the crowd loud and blurred. The scene cuts to Steven, back at his shop, where the black and white TV makes it hard to tell the teams apart, but still, he leans into the screen and cheers when the south African team scores a goal. The scene is stunning, in its seeming visual simplicity and its tremendous emotional range: the camera stays focused on Steven's face in profile, in the doorway, so you see no TV. But as the sound indicates what's happening and Steven's expression turns euphoric, a rush of people from inside the room, also watching, overwhelms the small frame of the door: bodies and colors and hands and smiles fill the image, gorgeous and chaotic and utterly joyous.

On one hand, the scene suggests the multiple effects of sports, as a distraction, a source of identity, and also an industry that has little to do with Extension 11. On the other hand, it illustrates Steven's great passion, his capacity to share and believe even in the dire life he leads. As Steven imagines Moskito at the stadium, he also imagines the future before her. It will be better than his, he says, because she is getting an education. As the film reveals, going to school and having even meager access to images of a world beyond Extension 11, Moskito is hopeful. She and her best friend Nonhlanhla put off flirtatious boys or shop for clothes. She keeps focused on her schoolwork, she looks after her mother, suffering from an unnamed but plainly taxing emotional illness.

When her mother -- also framed in a doorway -- says she hopes Moskito and her sister won't "make a mistake," the offscreen interviewer presses for details. "So, you don't like to see her hanging around with boys?" The mother smiles, noting, "I was speaking more indirectly," then says it plain: "If you hang yourself with boys," she declares, her smile bright and painful too, "You are going to suffer, you are not in a right life. You are going to suffer."

The film never reveals how Moskito's mother came to this idea, though the fundamental stress of her daily life may shape it. Her children are looking ahead, and at least as they speak with the filmmakers, they're at once careful and confident. As Moskito and Nonhlanhla describe their friendship, they smile, shy and delighted too. When Steven takes their ailing son Thabang to the hospital, where he is duly poked and prodded, the camera hovers nearby as the child bursts into tears, finds comfort in his father's arms, and then distraction in the doctor's tongue depressor. His face, like Steven's and Moskito's, is open and curious.

And, as Steven describes his daughter's chances for going to medical school, and as you see her on a soccer field or see her and tiny Thabang sleeping during a World Cup match the family has gathered to see on TV. They're both too exhausted to stay awake, and besides, Moskito says, "I want to play, not to watch." Her love of the game comes from her father, even if he had to change his thinking about what girls can do. "My dad started recognizing I can play soccer," she says over lovely shots of practice. "He started saying, 'Go on, my girl, play soccer. You'll be like your dad someday."

As Moskito and Steven believe in a future, so too does Husham, in spite of all the obstacles he finds in In My Mother's Arms. The layers of trauma can't be forgotten, but Saif can smile, he can find happiness in pleasing others, in sharing his memories. Brilliantly evocative and deeply sensitive, the movie reminds you of what might be.

In My Mother's Arms

10

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.