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Movie Reviews

The Gravedigger’s Wife ★★★



Director: Khadar Ayderus Ahmed

Cast: Omar Abdi, Yasmin Warsame

Released: La Semaine de la Critique Cannes 2021

Through the narrow, focused lens of Somali born director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, the small lives, filled with big troubles, of a family in Djibouti city are examined without judgment or outside interference in this story that pulls you in through its sheer simplicity. Only once in the film does the camera take in a wider canvas of the protagonist’s surroundings when he leaves home to set off back to his ancestral village. Otherwise, the world beyond the main characters’ experience is seen mostly as a blurry backdrop, usually in the form of a passing car or marketplace.

Guled (Omar Abdi) and Nasra (Somali born, Canada based model Yasmin Warsame) live but happily with their young son as a loving family unit. Guled works, when he can, as a gravedigger, literally chasing ambulances at the local hospital for new jobs. The money is not enough, and he is constantly searching for other menial work to make ends meet. Primarily, he needs money because Nasra has a dangerous kidney condition that needs operating on. Though she puts on a brave facade, blagging the couple’s way into a local wedding so they can eat well and dance, Nasra is fading. The surgery she needs will cost a small fortune by their standards, and the family doesn’t have that sort of money. Nasra is against Guled returning to the village from where they had fled years before because their families had disapproved of their union. Guled believes he can still return and sell the animals that make up his inheritance.

From this basic irony that the gravedigger seeks others to die so he can help his wife live, the film develops into a moving story of a perilous journey back ‘home’, friendship, betrayal, the rigidity of local customs and necessity being the mother of enterprise.

When some Hollywood productions are bludgeoning audiences with politics, the cinema of other countries, which could go down a heavier political route, is choosing to focus on telling stories. It is for the audience to put the story in the context of broader social and political concerns.

The Gravedigger’s Wife chooses to concentrate on the devotion between the married couple facing death and separation, their worries about their increasingly wayward son Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim), family loyalty, and the injustices, poverty and the demands of human forgiveness. In doing so, this slice of African cinema goes for universal appeal with issues everyone can understand and empathise with.

The Gravedigger’s Wife is playing as part of Cannes Critics Week at this year’s festival.

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