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MOVIES (GFF 2022): The Gravedigger's Wife - Review

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The Gravedigger’s Wife, Somalia’s Oscar submission, is a harrowing yet touching and emotional feature debut from director Khadar Ahmed that although did not get nominated for best picture showcases the need for the Academy to expand their international film number count to 10 – there’s gems that keep getting shut out year after year because the competition is too good and this is a perfect example of what can fall through the cracks.

It's a story that resonates on a global scale – a quietly moving, emotional and tender-hearted character study. Honing in on the impoverished outskirts of Djibouti The Gravedigger’s Wife avoids feeling like a glamourised tale, instead ringing true in its authentic vision that has something to say. The impact is felt at every turn, every choice and vision these characters make, and the landscape feels entirely naturalistic to tell this story in.

The tone feels modest, capturing everyday life in the first half but giving way to a sense of peril that almost betrays the film’s earnest naturalist approach – but regardless of the direction that the film heads in, Yasmin Warsame (her debut), Khadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim and Omar Abdi play well-realised characters at the core of this devastated family – the intimacy between Guled and Nasra is heavily captured in the film’s quietest moments, but things quickly take a turn for the worse when Nasra finds herself bedridden forcing Mahad and Guled to fend for themselves. Guled tells his son he’ll be back within a few days and heads off to rediscover his rural past – whilst Mahad tries to raise money by offering to wash cars. Their fine is expensive to pay off - $5,000 for a medical operation is completely impossible.

The core trio of Warsame, Ibrahim and Abdi play a well-realised and empathetic cast of characters that always make believable and convincing actions. Its contemporary tale may use basic, simple foundations but it helps make the film all the more accessible because of it – with a shallow irony at the film’s core, in order for Guled to raise his money, he must wait for others to die – due to the nature of his occupation as a gravedigger.

The technical aspects of The Gravedigger’s Wife are a marvel and it is a real visual treat. Arttu Peltomaa is an accomplished cinematographer who finds a beauty in the innocent moments, and the film is never once without its fair share of human tragedy. Thanks to a perfect balance of emotions it finds a way to leave a mark – feeling at once deeply honest and real – supported by AndrĂ© Matthias’ sombre, inward looking score that finds a way to pierce the soul.

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