Having already won the African Academy Award for Best Picture last year, there is a great deal of expectation riding on The Gravedigger’s Wife as it makes its Scottish debut. Predominantly set in the poorest outskirts of Djibouti City, the film follows Guled, a gravedigger struggling to care for his wife Nasra, who has an infected kidney, as his young son Mahad grows more distant by the day. The opportunity comes for Nasra to have life-saving surgery, but the extortionate cost forces both father and son to go to extraordinary lengths to raise the funds required.
At the heart of The Gravedigger’s Wife is the relationship between Guled and Nasra which is wonderfully brought to life by Omar Abdi and Yasmin Warsame. Abdi is understated, capturing the quiet nature of Guled while simultaneously exuding emotion and love for Nasra. Warsame on the other hand brings a charming zest for life to Nasra. She whisks her husband away on an escapade in the film’s early moments to recapture their youth, and even when most ill she stills has hope for son’s future. Her slow deterioration is heart-breaking to watch, but her compassion for both her husband and child never falters.
Content with their lot in life so long as they have each other, the pair carry the film to its loftiest heights both when together and apart. With the added dimension of Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim as Mahad though, the trio are a tour-de-force.
There’s also a biting undertone to the film. Although writer and director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed takes clear aim at the wealth and class disparity that lies within Djibouti City, the story and sentiment feel universally applicable. The family’s closest friends rally to aid them in their time of need and offer what little they can, while the wealthy who rely on the actions of Guled and his cohort close their eyes to their struggle without a second thought.
The moments of humour bring a required sense of brevity, but they never overtake the film’s more profound qualities. Ahmed’s artful eye for colour alongside the thoughtful performances of his central cast help to shape The Gravedigger’s Wife into something truly special. A heartfelt and suspenseful depiction of love and survival that is a marked triumph for African cinema.
Screening as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2022