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Film Review: The Gravedigger\'s Wife
by Marinell Haegelin

Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, Germany | France | Finland | Somalia | Qatar 2021

Living on the outskirts of Djibouti City, Guled (Omar Abdi) and associates are freelancers; they wait patiently in shade from the hospital wall, dig deep, and banter when drinking tea. It’s only when he sees beautiful, beloved Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) wasting away that his anguish and frustration manifest. It’s clear without a kidney transplant Nasra’ll die, while conversely, the operation’s astronomically expensive and he earns a pittance. Their teenager Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim) roams the streets with friends rather than watch mom’s disintegration. As Guled explains to friend, “I’m just a gravedigger with a wife, and a son that doesn’t look up to me.” Nasra’s gumption railing against her diseased kidney tenuously binds the poverty-stricken family. To humor her, Guled agrees to gatecrash a wedding where magical moments transpire; while they dance, their touching backstory’s past/present is rhythmically revealed. Fate intervenes with a chilling incident; the clock’s ticking as Guled admits he needs what he gave up to have Nasra. Desperate, knowing he’s going against Nasra’s wishes Guled heads for the countryside, and home, leaving Mahad in charge.

Finnish-Somali writer-director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s poignant, poetic debut film’s a dramatization of Africa’s healthcare crisis that’s universally problematic, and how serious illness can debilitate, disrupt, and yet sometimes unite families. The charismatic cast is delightful, particularly Abdi and Warsame’s rapport; it’s the Somalia-Canadian model’s acting debut. Ibrahim’s portrayal’s touching when, given responsibility he exceeds by earning money. Production values are impressive: filming in Somalia Arttu Peltomaa’s cinematography is eye-catching, Sebastian Thümler’s editing fluid, and Andre Matthias’ music authentic. 

THE GRAVEDIGGER’S WIFE’s powerful, compelling storyline’s witticism, and subtly satiric, biting social commentary is tempered by Ahmed’s unfaltering direction. Its remarkably humane natural warmth somehow projects promise. This gem is Somalia’s submission for Best International Feature Film for the 94th Academy Awards in 2022.