The Gravedigger's Wife

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Gravedigger's Wife
"There's a straightforwardness to the telling of this tale that adds to its accessibility." | Photo: Bufo

This debut feature from Khadar Ayderus Ahmed - which has a fable-like quality - is a sharp reminder that universal healthcare, rough around the edges though it might sometimes be, remains a triumph in the face of wider inequalities, allowing much fairer access for all than many global systems.

The situation is brought sharply home in the Finnish-Somalia writer/director's film as Guled (Omar Abdi), who spends his time at the hospital gates waiting for the death of others, so that he can make ends meet and finds himself staring it straight in the face when his wife Nasra (model Yasmin Warsame, showing real skill in her acting debut) becomes sick with kidney disease and requires a $5,000 operation, which they cannot afford.

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There's a straightforwardness to the telling of this tale - which is Somalia's Oscar nomination and screening at Glasgow Film Festival - that adds to its accessibility despite its strong sense of geographical place. Ahmed economically and warmly establishes the love between Guled and Nasra in a bathing scene and one in which they gatecrash a wedding with a particularly amusing technique, while injecting the fringes of their story with life and energy courtesy of their young son Mahad (Khadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim), as he runs about with his pack of pals.

As Nasra's health worsens, Guled becomes increasingly desperate to help, which results in a lengthy pilgrimage back to the home village where, it is hinted before being spelled out, that a less than rapturous welcome awaits. Ahmed keeps things simple, giving real strength to the bond between Guled and Nasra and using strong lighting design to shift emotions - with the honeyed glow of the interiors captured by Artuu Petomaa taking on a sickly green sheen as Nasra's health worsens, although this does also give the indoor scenes a slightly stagey quality that doesn't quite sit with the naturalism elsewhere. Outside their home, the dusty hardness of the environment is presented in a matter of fact manner that doesn't labour the point. The story may not be complex but the point is, we care - an emotion,Ahmed suggests is in short supply on the part of the Somalian authorities.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2022
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The Gravedigger's Wife packshot
A gravedigger finds himself up against it as he tries to get the cash together to help his gravely ill wife get medical treatment.

Director: Khadar Ahmed

Writer: Khadar Ahmed

Starring: Omar Abdi, Yasmin Warsame, Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim, Samaleh Ali Obsieh, Hamdi Ahmed Omar, Awa Ali Nour, Amina Ayanleh

Year: 2021

Runtime: 82 minutes

Country: Finland, Germany, France


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