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Writer-director Oliver Laxe’s Mimosas offers a majestically photographed drama about a diminishing band of tribesman trying to carry their late sheikh’s body to an ancestral resting place in Morocco’s Atlas mountain range. It was admired by many in Cannes, especially the Critics’ Week jury who awarded it their top prize. The French-born Spanish director — whose first film was self-reflexive, film-within-film story You Are All Captains – has lived in Morocco for nearly a decade and his understanding of the country’s language, culture and, above all, its sun-blasted landscape shines brightly in every frame.
Nevertheless, it’s also an endurance test for anyone not especially keen on films packed with long shots of people, mules and cars traveling through landscapes for minutes at a time. Imagine a near unrelenting series of variations on the opening – admittedly spectacular – scene from Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), or even those bits in Fitzcarraldo (1982) where they carry the river boat over a mountain, but with no Klaus Kinski bringing the comic-relief crazy. Commercially, the film won’t wander far beyond hardcore cinephile cities like Paris and New York, but will certainly walk the festival path, especially in the footsteps of Ben Rivers’ semi-documentary experimental film The Sky Trembles and The Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015), which featured footage of Laxe and his crew making Mimosas.
The opening half hour starts off promisingly, establishing two contrasting groups of characters before the narrative converges them. In a smallish town, men jostle in a square, waiting to find out who will be assigned a taxi for that day’s work. When relatively inexperienced Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar) gets hired, there’s disgruntlement, but it transpires that Shakib’s has been chosen for a special purpose. Like some scruffy guardian angel, Shakib’s job for the day is to help a man named Ahmed any way he can.
Meanwhile, out in the desert, there is indeed a man named Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud), traversing the mountains with a caravan of tribespeople loyal to an aged sheikh. Ahmed grumbles to his friend Said (Said Aagli) that the old man doesn’t seem to know where he’s going, which is true in a way because before long Allah has called the elderly patriarch to him, and who amongst us really knows where we go after death? Still, he leaves behind a corpse on a high, desolate plain in the mountains which must be buried according to custom. The sheikh’s last wishes were to be buried in an ancestral plot in a place called Sijilmasa, but most of the tribe balk at the mission to accompany the remains there. Ironically, only Ahmed, Said, the sheikh’s silent young widow Ikram (Ikram Anzouli) and a few others are willing to take the corpse to Sijilmasa. Shakib, appearing mysteriously as out of thin air, joins them on the quest.
Alas, the path is treacherous, and in places practically impassable, but Shakib’s repeated insists they’ll find a way, even if it means making the mules fly instead of walking. But just when it looks like the film might evolve into some airy celebration of faith, entirely credible earthly dangers from falling rocks and hidden bandits– and watery dangers as well at a river – pick off the travelers, rather throwing into question just how keen Allah was about this whole mission in the first place.
Laxe draws out relaxed, intense performance from his non-professional cast, especially from the weirdly mesmerizing Ben Omar. Some of the high-angle shots looking down on this treeless moonscape, often caught bathed in slanting dusk or dawn light by Mauro Herce’s excellent cinematography, can take one’s breath away at times, especially the repeated shots of a fleet of taxis kicking up dust as they cross the desert. But with such an elliptical tease of a plot, which jumps back and forth temporally disdaining explication, some may feel a little of this travelogue goes a long way.
Production companies: A Zeitun Film, La Prod, Rouge International production
Cast: Ahmed Hammoud, Shakib Ben Omar, Saïd Aagli, Ikram Anzouli, Ahmed El Othemani, Hamid Fardjad
Director/screenwriter: Oliver Laxe
Producer: Felipe Lage Coro
Co-producers: Lamia Chraibi, Michel Merkt, Nadia Turincev, Julie Gayet
Director of Photography: Mauro Herce
Costume designer: Nadia Acimi
Editor: Cristobal Fernandez
No rating, 93 minutes
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