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CANNES 2024 Un Certain Regard

Review: The Village Next to Paradise


- CANNES 2024: Mo Harawe imposes his remarkable sense of framing on a touching and laconic tale illustrating the misfortunes and resilience of the Somali people

Review: The Village Next to Paradise
Ahmed Ali Farah and Ahmed Mohamud Saleban in The Village Next to Paradise

“We don't know the dead man, he was killed yesterday by a drone. We're just helping - I'm working for you and you're only giving me 50% of the money you promised. Why? Don't call me again.” The Village Next to Paradise, the masterful first feature film by Somalian director Mo Harawe (who has lived in Austria for 15 years), presented in the Un Certain Regard programme at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, begins with this dry argument over a grave that has just been dug in the middle of nowhere. A film that takes its time, in a high-quality visual setting, to paint a portrait, through a small family, of a Somalia where the present is very harsh, the past is heavy with those who disappeared and the future is uncertain, apart from the sacrifices and faith needed to move forward, all while the gorgeous beaches are just a stone's throw away.

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Gravedigger, mechanic, driver: Marmagade (Ahmed Ali Farah) accepts all kinds of jobs, some of them illegal, to support his young son, the schoolboy Cigaal (Ahmed Mohamud Saleban), whom he is bringing up alone. Araweelo (Anab Ahmed Ibrahim), Marmagade's sister, has come to live with them after divorcing (she was unable to have children and refused to cohabit with a second wife) and is saving up to buy a small shop. But to do this, she absolutely must get back the money she has lent or obtain a bank loan, which is no easy task. As for Marmagade, he has a decision to make: Cigaal's school is closing due to a lack of funds, and the headmistress suggests that, in order not to spoil the child's potential, he should be placed in an (expensive) boarding school in town. It's a separation that won't be easy for either the son or his father.

Parents killed in boat capsizes caused by international ships illegally fishing in Somali waters and mistaking them for pirates, or as a result of the chemicals that polluted the Somali coast in the 90s, suicide bombings, drones and arms trafficking, extreme poverty and scarce jobs: a fatalistic leaden blanket reigns (“there's no point in having children, they die young”) under the sun, but “there will be better days, we'll get through this as a family.” It's a picture that Mo Harawe details with simplicity and precision at the slowed-down emotional pace of a country where exchanges are very restrained, which the filmmaker makes the most of thanks to the charisma of his three main performers (all non-professionals) and to frames beautifully composed by Mostafa El Kashef.

The Village Next to Paradise was produced by FreibeuterFilm (Austria) with Kazak Productions (France), NiKo Film (Germany) and Maanmaal (Samalia). The film is internationally sold by Totem Films.

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(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)

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