TIFF 2021: 'The Gravedigger's Wife | 'Murina' (Reviews)
THE GRAVEDIGGER'S WIFE
Taking the viewer to somewhere that movies don't usually go, The Gravedigger's Wife (Guled & Nasra in Finland, Somali title is unknown right now) from director-writer Khadar Ayderus Ahmed gives you a viewpoint to a family of three in Djibouti, and what love can mean to them. Father of the family, Guled (Omar Abdi) works as a gravedigger during the day and does side hustles otherwise, son Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim) is roaming around as children do and mother Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) ends up in bed-rest as she is having a kidney failure. In order to pay for a surgery and to save his loved one, Guled embarks on a long and difficult hike to his home village where he left his family and herd.
In the very heart of the film is the amount of love and sacrifice one is willing to give and receive, well shown in Abdi's commanding and heartrending work as Guled which gives Ahmed a beat to build his song around. Guled comes alive in small but meaningful instances, like taking the lead on eye contact with Nasra (eyes are actors' best tool after all) or gentle physical contact. Same care can be found in cinematographer Arttu Peltomaa's subtle tracking as well as the soft but moody lighting of their home in comparison to harsher views of the life away from Nasra.
Ahmed shows a lot of promise and style with his lead actors, including child actor Ibrahim, but ''Gravedigger'' also sometimes slips away from the characters. Mainly the third act has some structural issues as it suddenly tries to bring Mahad more into the limelight, those shifts from him and to Guled are abrupt and they also pull the viewer away from Abdi's important moments. There are also quite a few weak performances in the film's supporting cast, which just makes the talent gap between them and Abdi, who is mostly interacting with them, seem even bigger; acting sadly doesn't stop after first three on the call-sheet.
Smileys: Cinematography, Omar Abdi
Is it a colour template, a film or an ad inviting you to book your next vacation in Croatia? You'll be the judge when you see Murina (same title in Croatia) which is the feature debut for director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, also co-written by her with Frank Graziano. In this mix of coming-of-age drama and psychological elements, Gracija Filipović stars as Julija who is a 16-year-old living in a seaside house with a heavenly view alongside her parents, diving fisherman Ante (Leon Lučev) and Nela (Danica Čurčić). Julija is often at the mercy of her dad's fluctuating mood, then partying youth nearby as well as a charming family guest Javi (Cliff Curtis) persuade Julija to test the boundaries of this domestic patriarchy.
It only takes mere minutes for Murina to set the stage and all the complicated relationships inside the family, with cinematographer Hélène Louvart and her (presumed) team of underwater operators putting the lens as close to Julija as possible. Filipović can hold a close-up well in those situations while the life is happening around her most of the time, also helped by beautiful locations that are simply breathtaking. These things transport the viewer to the waters of Croatia and into the house of this family, which just makes you want more than you're really given in terms of the material.
Because Murina has those coming-of-age roots, it's disappointing how little we actually get to know Julija or learn about her, in fact we get more insight on selling a land. When she's determined that she's ready to take a leap of faith, it's harder to connect with that idea when you don't know what she aspires to do, or how she aspires to live her life when not controlled and insulted by her dad. Making difficult things more difficult is the nonsensical editing from Vladimir Gojun as you have no idea where you are at half the time at least; there is no sense of space or centering Julija to the sets which undermines the gorgeously photographed scenery.
Frowneys: Editing, characterisation