Some stories of struggle and survival have the power to grip you and The Gravedigger’s Wife does so with a certain ease.

Part of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival African Stories strand comes the latest from writer-director Khadar Ayderus Ahmed. And there’s much to cheer about with movie picking up Best Film at the African Movie Academy Awards 2021.

Set in the city of Djibouti it opens with a group of men digging graves where we are introduced to Guled (Omar Abdi). We follow Guled who is battling to provide for his family, be a role model to his son Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim) and take care of his sick wife Nasra (Yasmin Warsame). From here we see him dealing with this turmoil in his life and his decision to go the arduous journey for help in paying medical bills.

From the start you get a sense that Omar’s Guled has an air of wisdom and steely determination that drives him adding another dimension to the character. We see in one instance Guled and his group chase an ambulance in the sheer hope of work – it is jarring and a grim reminder of their reality. 

You instantly get a picture of the gravity of the situation and with it the movie is clouded with an air of inevitability as we literally see in one scene a vulture circling. 

Make no mistake about it, even with all of this Khadar Ahmed doesn’t simply fall down the rabbit of despair and avoids the pitfall of imploring audiences to simply feel pity for his characters.

At the heart of The Gravedigger’s Wife is love and the chemistry between Omar Abdi and Yasmin Warsame, whose performances give it all a real emotional depth. The way the director reveals how these characters met is done in such a way that is heartwarming in spite of the dire situation.

The Gravedigger by Khadar Ahmed – BUFO – photo by Lasse Lecklin

It is not a film devoid of happiness or moments of levity where we see Guled with his fellow gravediggers pranking a member of the group to when he crashes a strangers wedding with Nasra. Fear not, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are nowhere in sight and is a scene that demonstrates the power of the goat (a possible follow-up idea for Jane Campion).

These moments of levity are much-needed to counteract at least some of the doom and gloom. It feels drawn out where there is no sense of urgency despite the severity of the situation. 

With that element missing it makes it all a little flat  – the pace is very much the same at the start of the film to the point it reaches its conclusion. This makes for a tough watch where very little happens.