The 57th Chicago International Film Festival will run from October 13-24, and as in many previous years, I have received press credentials on behalf of the Chicago Crusader. This is always a great time of the year for me, and even though I may not screen many films in person, the Fest has made virtual screening possible again this year. With this, earlier this week, I was able to screen a couple of films virtually, and I’ll report on them below. In upcoming columns—either in print or online or both—I will share my thoughts on a few other films during the duration of the festival.
The Gravedigger’s Wife – DIRECTED BY: Khadar Ayderus Ahmed
COUNTRIES: France, Somalia, Germany, Finland RUN TIME 82 minutes
Drama Family Affairs Social Commentary
SYNOPSIS: In Djibouti City in the Horn of Africa, Guled (Omar Abdi) is among a group of men who eke out a meager living burying the bodies that are delivered to a local hospital. When his beloved wife Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) contracts a kidney infection, the couple finds themselves in dire straits as a transplant is financially out of reach.
Pragmatic Nasra resolves to enjoy her remaining days with her husband and son, but Guled cannot let her go—and he resolves to do the one thing in his power to save her from her fate. A poetic ode to the unshakable bond the couple share, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” finds great beauty in sorrow and in the grand gestures and tender moments between two people deeply in love.
This film was so beautiful on many levels. The landscape and the cinematography of Somalia and Ethiopia are just breathtaking. The love that Guled has for his wife and son is unbreakable, and, as well, the love that Nasra has even in her pain with living with kidney disease is more than admirable. Guled takes his commitment to his wife to the highest level. He toils throughout the day outside the hospital, looking for work. He implores hospital officials to perform lifesaving surgery on Nasra. And in the end, he travels back to his home village, where he has been shunned, to respectfully and ashamedly ask for help with needed funds.
LANGUAGE: Somali with subtitles
The Gravedigger’s Wife – Cinema Chicago (chicagofilmfestival.com)
The Last Shelter Le Dernier Refuge – DIRECTED BY: Ousmane Samassékou
COUNTRIES: France, Mali, South Africa RUN TIME: 85 minutes
Documentary Political Social Commentary
SYNOPSIS: On the edge of the Saharan desert in West Africa, at the crossroads of hope and defeat, lies the Caritas Migrant House, a temporary waystation for thousands of people every year. Following the travelers who pass through the facility’s doors, The Last Shelter serves as a lyrical, deeply human study of the denizens of the refuge, among them 16-year-old Esther, a Burkinabe girl who becomes the film’s most affecting central character. Running away from a loveless homelife, Esther dreams of finding freedom and newfound purpose in Algeria—but will she ever manage to move forward? Winner of the top prize at the prestigious CPH:DOX film festival, this is a beautiful, sensorial account of exile, home, and the space between.
Esther is trying to brave it on her own, by escaping to the shelter. But protocol dictates that she shares more than she would like with officials there. They only want to help her, and she slowly gives in to protocol. The shelter is a melting pot for folks from all over West Africa who are looking for better lives. One man talks about how he has successfully traveled the desert many times. Other new arrivals are fascinated with the American wrestling matches that play on an endless loop on the beat-up television. But all of them, as does Esther, find that the “space between” exile and home is filled with warmth and concern that many didn’t figure they would find.
LANGUAGE: Bambara, French, Fula, Hausa, Mooré, Susu, Waama with subtitles
The Last Shelter – Cinema Chicago (chicagofilmfestival.com)
The Odd-Job Men Sis dies corrents – DIRECTED BY: Neus Ballús
COUNTRIES: Spain RUN TIME: 85 minutes
SYNOPSIS: In this wry and thoroughly charming yarn, a trio of real-life plumbers play three handymen who spend six comically tense days in one another’s company. With long-term crony Pep’s impending retirement, bullheaded Valero is assigned a new partner, and Moroccan immigrant Moha, is determined to make a good impression. As the group travels to service calls along the outskirts of Barcelona, Valero can’t help but be put off by Moha — but is it his ethnicity or his easy rapport with the clients that bothers Valero more? Equal parts sit-com and droll character study, The Odd-Job Men deftly deploys humor to raise thoughtful questions about damaging masculine stereotypes and people’s capacity to change.
Valero seems to need much help in this story of three handymen who sort of work well together and are also at odds during some of their workdays. Moha is new and while Pep accepts him, even with the language barrier, he is soon to be retired. So, the burden falls on Valero to at least be amicable—and that’s a hard road for him. “The Odd-Job Men” is both funny and direct in the ways that it illustrates how all three handymen can better work together by addressing social and cultural differences.
LANGUAGE: Berber, Catalan, Spanish with subtitles
Click on Chicago International Film Festival (chicagofilmfestival.com) for more information.