A Girl From Mogadishu

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

A Girl From Mogadishu
"A story brought dazzlingly to life by the talents of its veteran cast and crew"

This is an astonishingly heart-warming film, full of light and life, but no quantity of content warnings could steel you for the darknesses it visits. Sufficiently close to 'based on a true story' that it ends with the almost obligatory montage of the cast and the real people they have been portraying, this does not at the start say 'true story'. It says 'based on the testimony of Ifrah Ahmed.'

A Girl From Mogadishu is Ifrah's tale, but a key element almost shares the same acronym as AGFM - Female Genital Mutilation.

Copy picture

This is powerful stuff, a story brought dazzlingly to life by the talents of its veteran cast and crew. Writer/director Mary McGuckian has almost a dozen films under her belt. As Ifrah, Aja Naomi King brings a delight, a drive, further signal of a talent that's been rewarded with key roles in US drama series. As the film follows Ifrah from Somalia to Eire, there are plenty of each set of her compatriots - Barkhad Abdi continues to impress, Maryam Mursal may well be better known to fans of world music, and Orla Brady has been on screens some 20 years more and is equally recognisable. They are not the only famous names - there are a fair few 'as themselves' in and amongst the settings, some of which are standing in for others.

There are computer-generated Blackhawks over skies shot elsewhere than Somalia, Dublin is caught neon and new to give it a familiar futurity, not so much the disco-lit dystopia predicted by Blade Runner as the reflections it called into being - the world Mead fleshed. A dutch angle on escalators makes them as off-kilter as their riders feel, all in and among the modern business of film - some drone, some composite, some measure of pattern. There are great moments of sound, from a "welcome home love" to a social worker's conversation becoming obfuscation. There's technical detail too, an exploration of what it means to Somalia's economy to be diaspora dependent, something given ground by Ireland's international impact.

This is a high-profile work, and a crusading one - rightfully so. Michael Lavelle's camera has previously caught everything from several shorts to a magic tractor (not one that turned into a field - a Swedish kids film, and its sequel). Nitin Sawhney composes, a task he also ably fulfilled for 2014's Nelson Mandela Redrawn.

They too are part of a multinational project that tells an international story, and all of that does this film a disservice, because it is weighty and worthy and campaigning and didactic, but it is also never as leaden or as lumpen as that might suggest. There's a sense sometimes that films with a cause are doomed to the level of polemic or propaganda. This is neither, so affirming and positive that it's hard to countenance. It ably manages swings from the playful to the portentous, to hide further import in phrases as innocuous as "perhaps that's a lesser evil," to shed light on societal secrets, the "three feminine sorrows". That light often in flashback, focus, all the more forceful for it.

The film has been touring the festival circuit, shown too at events relating to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), it's now about to get wider, well-deserved, distribution. While Eye For Film saw it at 2019's Edinburgh Film Festival, US audiences will be able to see it from this week on Showtime. It's not always an easy watch, but it is a rewarding one. The first radio broadcasts in Africa were by Marconi in Mogadishu, and another pioneer of the medium gave us the Reithian ideal - to educate, inform, and entertain. A Girl From Mogadishu does all three.

Reviewed on: 15 Jul 2020
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A Girl From Mogadishu packshot
The true story of Ifrah Ahmed, who fled war-torn Somalia in 2006 and became a campaigner against gender based violence and female genital mutilation.

Festivals:

EIFF 2019

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