Sunday, May 22, 2022 | Shawwal 20, 1443 H
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The Unknown Saint

If you are a fan of The Coen Brothers movies, then you shouldn’t miss The Unknown Saint. Set in a remote drought-ridden area in Morocco, the movie’s opening scene is of a man reaching the place with a duffel bag full of stolen money.

He takes a shovel and goes uphill where he buries it and to disguise it even further, shapes it like a grave before going down and being detained by the police. After serving his time, the thief (Younes Bouab) returns to retrieve his booty and is shocked to find out that a shrine has been built on the burial place dedicated to the Unknown Saint.

Not only that, a whole village has boomed nearby where the residents are benefiting from visitors coming for the Unknown Saint, whose healing powers are witnessed throughout the movie.

The thief decides to stay for a while to figure out how he could get his money out which is an impossible mission: in the morning the place is packed with visitors and peddlers, and in the evening it’s either guarded by a shepherd (Abdelghani Kitab) and his Alsatian or has occasional villagers performing curious rituals.

This catch-22 situation pushes the thief to contact his friend The Brain (Saleh ben Saleh), who comes to his aid at once. But would the two of them manage to get the booty out of the shrine? This is the main plot of the movie with other subplots that intersect at times, with all characters sharing the effect of the Unknown Saint on their lives despite their scepticism of his powers: Brahim the old angry farmer whose neighbours had left the village to the newly-founded one and is desperate for the miracle of rain for his crops, the frustrated new doctor who arrives to find the villagers depending on the Unknown Saint’s healing miracles while his clinic is used as a hang out place for the old wives, the nurse who kills his time and boredom by performing misdeeds directed at the Unknown Saint, and the village barber – also the unsophisticated dentist- who rewards and punishes acts revolving around the shrine.

These eccentric characters with their deadpan humour and no background stories are the highlight of the movie especially the scenes with the old wives discussing their ailments with the new doctor, including coughs that occur on certain days. There are many themes that the movie deals with including the power of belief- reaching at times to the point of absurdity- and hope that comes in unexpected forms.

Director Alaa Eddine Aljem does a brilliant job depicting the idle life of a remote village where tiny occurrences become major events to the villagers. Moreover, he captures the scarcity of the surroundings not only by focusing on the parched terrains but even with the minimum use of score that surprise the viewer from time to time.

also reflects the village’s male dominant society by not having any main female character in the movie; the only females you get to see are the old wives and a glimpse of a few visiting the shrine.

All members of the cast portray their respective characters outstandingly, especially the nameless thief who throughout the movie ridicules the villagers’ belief in the Unknown Saint yet delays his plans of excavating the shrine after hearing a thunderclap. This is Aljems debut movie that was selected as Morocco’s entry for Best International Film at the 93rd Academy Awards this year but wasn’t nominated.

The Unknown Saint is a universal movie that’s insightful, entertaining and easy to identify with. Available on Netflix.

Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of The World According to Bahja.

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