‘The Gravedigger’s wife’ is a film that revolves around Guled, a man who has been earning money as a gravedigger in order to provide for his son, Mahad, and sick wife, Nasra. As Nasra’s health declines, Guled is seen to go through many difficulties to earn money and ensure his wife’s Kidney surgery and treatment.
In his debut film, Khadar Ayderus Ahmed takes us through a story about love, life, and sacrifice inspired by a sudden death in his family that took place ten years ago. The Islamic funeral process is tedious, hence in Africa, there would be gravediggers by the hospital ready to get the job done in 2 hours. The film, revolving around a gravedigger, is seen to evoke a nostalgic feeling that took Ahmed back to his childhood. Even though Omar Abdi (Guled) and Yasmine Warsame (Nasra) both lacked experience in acting, they were able to give an outstanding and authentic performance. This could be due to the fact that being Somali, their individual experiences served as a form of inspiration to create that authenticity.
The story has universal themes of love and sacrifice- How far are you willing to go to save your loved ones? To Guled, he was willing to go to any length for his wife. Nasra and Guled were much like Romeo and Juliet: she (Nasra) was a miserable girl whose father was going to marry off to an older man, whereas he (Guled) was a quiet boy whose first words to her were “I love you.” It was unfortunate yet unsurprising that their families were against their union. However, highly valuing their love, they chose to never return to their families. After so many years, that same love is seen in Nasra. Even with her illness, she wanted Guled and her son to be able to carry on regardless of what happens. This tragic race against time is amplified by the kind of love this family has for each other, which leaves audiences apprehensive and at the edge of their seats.
One of the most impactful scenes in the movie was when Guled was sitting with one of his friends talking about his life. “I’m 45 years old, and I hunt dead bodies for a living. I have a son that I can’t be an example for, and my wife’s health is getting worse. With all these issues, I can only try to stay sane.” This small conversation stands to be so powerful as it highlights Guled’s resilience as a man who would cross the desert with one sandal for his family.
Every scene is encapsulated in beautiful landscape shots and high tension close-ups that make you observe these characters, expressing humanity that viewers often don’t see. In the media, merchants, gravediggers, farmers, sailors, and struggling parents are not represented. Rather, Somalis are constantly presented under the stereotypical shroud of being pirates and warlords. However, this film shows a different perspective as it depicts the daily life of a Somali family struggling with poverty yet grounded by their compassion and devotion for each other. Awarded the “Amplify Voices Awards” at TIFF, the manner in which Khadar Ahmed amplified these characters’ individual stories was distinctive. As a Somali myself, these scenes are familiar in a sense, yet also foreign. I see myself as the lady who had Guled bring her groceries from the sooq to her car. I see myself as a passenger who is asked by the children if I need my car washed for 10,000 shillings.
Throughout the film, viewers also see Mahad forced out of his childhood and had avoided his parents until he was obligated to take care of his mother. However, by the end of the movie, we see a development in Mahad as he grows into a mature child. Unfortunately, we never get closure with our main characters as the film ends on a cliffhanger of a beat-up Guled in the back of a truck. This mystery causes a spiral of questions as to what will now happen to Nasra at the hospital. As the credits roll with the title song, it evokes goosebumps as we think about the endless possibilities.
Something I realized when watching this film is that you really never know what’s going on in someone’s life. With beautiful visuals of Djibouti, complex characters, a great soundtrack, and a story that makes you want to know more, the film realistically showcased cultural differences and poverty. I definitely recommend people to watch the film, re-watch it and ask yourself- How far are you willing to go to save your loved ones?