Writer and Director: Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
Sometimes the simplest story is all you need to make a cinematic impression and Khadar Ayderus Ahmed certainly does that with this debut feature showing in the Love strand at the London Film Festival. Beautifully shot in Somalia and running at just 80-minutes this story of a family coming together is a final treat for the Festival’s closing weekend.
Married to the beautiful Nasra, who he met and eloped with as a teenager, gravedigger Guled is devastated when a sudden illness threatens her life. Needing $5000 to pay for a rare but effective operation at the local hospital, Guled and his son struggle to raise the money even with donations from their friends. So Guled decides to return to his home village where he hopes to find assistance.
Despite its title, Ahmed’s film gives us little of Nasra’s perspective, although we learn early on that she is devoted to her family and is a force to be reckoned with in the local Djibouti community. Instead, her plight motors the narrative, and as she lay suffering this love story becomes about a journey instead as Guled travels across inhospitably rugged hills that test his perseverance to find a solution to the family’s problems.
Antti Nikkinen’s production design and Arttu Peltomaa’s cinematography are the real stars, giving the landscape in and around Djibouti a magnificent sweep. Often dry and hot, there is such richness in the colour choices for both exterior and interior shots enhanced by sophisticated lighting techniques that create warmth within the family home as well as the vibrancy of city life. These contrast with the starkness of the village and its surroundings, but Ahmed’s team still give these shots a cinematic feel.
Omar Abdi’s Guled anchors the film as his character endures endless trials for the sake of his wife. Evoking all of the fear for her, often without dialogue, there is an everyman quality to Guled whose determination to protect his family becomes very affecting while Abdi equally suggests the despair of failure as each new plan takes him no further towards the money he needs.
Yasmin Warsame in her first role has less to do as Nasara but offers quiet suffering and a loving mother which she does well, while Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim as their teenage son Mahad carries an entire subplot in which the boy cares for his mother and applies his own entrepreneurial skills in trying to raise money by undertaking a variety of jobs.
The Gravedigger’s Wife is a very promising first feature that suggests Khadar Ayderus Ahmed is a talent to watch. The film doesn’t offer too many surprises and ends rather abruptly but finds considerable emotional depth and visual grandeur in the simplest tale of family unity.
The Gravedigger’s Wife is screening at the London Film Festival.