Wonderfully directed, Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s The Gravedigger’s Wife tackles societal issues in Djibouti City, giving a voice to those who need it. A touching and thoughtful film that fills you with hope despite the hardship around those involved.
Guled (Omar Abdi) works hard to support his wife and son. The deaths of others provide him with a living as a digger of graves. Unfortunately, his wife, Nasra (Yasmin Warsame), has an infected kidney. Life-saving surgery is possible, but the cost is exorbitant, so Guled embarks on an epic quest to try and raise the money.
Guled will do anything for his family, be it the aforementioned grave digging or carrying the shopping from the local market to the cars of those much more well off than him. He tries to eke out as much money for getting the surgery paid but has to realise his best chances involve leaving the city, his young son and his ailing wife. So he has to go home and hopefully collect his share in the herd he left behind to be with his love. We constantly feel that love as well, which is a tender connection between him and Nasra. You buy into their story with the greatest of ease, and their comfortableness together shines through the screen.
With Nasra, Warsame has a poise about her that you rarely see. She constantly pulls that camera into her as you, like Guled, cannot help but fall for her. As her illness worsens and the gravity of the situation begins to darken all around it. Despite this, her strength to keep fighting provides the hope you need when in times of trouble; she is a fighter, and although she is in agony, she will keep going.
Young Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim), prone more to wandering the streets with his friends, is forced to grow up sharpish and even takes it upon himself to do what he can for the family. He takes the mantle of the man of the house very well in the sweetest way possible. However, no matter the menial task in the city, money is hard to come by, much to his chagrin. So he has to remind his family that he is the only one who has had enough education to read and write and that he should be respected for it, all while being ten years old. It is a confident performance from the young actor, and as those rally with him, we see him rise.
Seeing how difficult it is for Guled to get the treatment for his wife that she so desperately needs puts a focus on how at times, we can be so lucky to have been born where we are. Here in the UK, we have the NHS, and while it is strained and waiting times are high. We know that we could get that treatment. It is in some form of reach, but for the poor people in the huts living in cities like Djibouti where getting a few pounds or dollars is a good day, to have a fee like $5000 flashed at them for a life-saving surgery has to be excruciating. But, of course, that is only if the aesthetician is even in the city as they move from place to place to provide help. How lucky we must be not to have such worries that occur in The Gravedigger’s Wife.
The importance of showing situations like this around the world should not be underestimated. People here have to look after themselves, so it becomes all the more emotional when friends of Guled, who are a part of his gravedigging crew, gives him money to try and get his wife the treatment she needs. Guled should not require his friends pooling together, nor should Mahad and his friends spend their day working menial tasks for pennies. They should be in school getting the education they deserve, but they are not, and that is Ahmed’s clear point. These are people who have been left behind, while others pay for them to carry a bag to their pricey car and offer them random coins from the bottom of their purse.
Even though it runs at a brief 84 minutes, there feels as if more should be fleshed out in The Gravedigger’s Wife. We should see more of the struggles Mahad has, more of Nasra, and even if it is while she is ill as other than the wonderful then worrisome wedding scene, we see her merely in her bed. But, of course, this is mostly a film showing the lengths to which someone will go for the person they love. Even so, we need to see more of that person to connect even more with her.
The Gravedigger’s Wife takes us on the most unexpected and heartwarming of stories. While keeping an inherent sense of sorrow spread throughout. Khadar Ayderus Ahmed makes sure to sprinkle just enough hope in there to have his audience think of a better future for those in similar situations. It doesn’t have to be this way, and by pointing a lens at those less seen, we can only hope that there are fewer situations like this.
The Gravedigger’s Wife will be shown during the Glasgow Film Festival in person on Friday 4th and Saturday 5th March. For more information click here.
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