Rita di Santo reviews a film at the Luxor Film Festival
In this revolutionary triumph of emotion and form, Khadar Ayderus Ahmed rises to the ranks of one of the most interesting filmmakers emerging from contemporary cinema.
A film of acute tenderness and eloquence, The Gravedigger's Wife grounds its critique of a third world country’s socio-political mores in an achingly eloquent meditation on the struggle of a family in a cruel society.
The story is set and shot on location in Djibouti, which is close to Somalia, but is not an identifiable location in the film. It could be any poor part of Africa, or other places in the global South where hunger and poverty reign.
The protagonist, Guled, is seen roaming his village with a spade on his shoulder, looking for corpses to bury in exchange of few coins, or waiting crow-like outside the hospital, for an ambulance to arrive, when he runs to check if the patient it carried is dead.
In the evening he returns to his hut to his wife Nasra, an elegant, slim figure with a turban on her head, lying in bed. We soon discover that she suffers from an abscess on her kidney. An easily treatable disease in our country – but here, Nasra’s life is at risk. The only salvation is an expensive surgical procedure, which the couple cannot afford.
All Guled's savings have already gone to pay for antibiotics. Against his wife’s will, Guled decides to go back to his native village, to ask the help of his mother and brother.
The journey puts Guled’s life at risk, as well. On foot, without shoes, no food, no water and no shade, under a scorching sun. A painful and silent trip in the hands of destiny, against all odds. It is a universal story, a sad folktale from the past to the present.
The director, Ahmed, was born in Somalia, but also has lived in Ethiopia, and clearly knows his subject matter and how to make the best of it. He gives us a mesmerising immersion in Africa’s landscapes and colours in this sublime and poetic film, which provokes multiple reflections.
The Gravedigger’s Wife presents and judges the problem of our world, giving voice to those who are not heard. In its exploration of class struggle it recalls classics like Bicycle Thieves. Here, the tool for survival is not a bicycle anymore, but just a simple spade. Guled’s figure, searching for a job with a spade on his shoulder, is a powerful statement of class struggle.
Rita di Santo is a film critic and reviewer.
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