Director: Oliver Laxe
Cast: Ahmed Hammoud, Shakib Ben Omar, Saïd Aagli, Ikram Anzouli, Ahmed El Othemani, Hamid Fardjad
Watch Mimosas online in the UK: MUBI UK
If parts of this Morocco-set spiritual western look familiar, that’s because the shooting of the film was featured in British director Ben Rivers’ strangely titled The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, in which director Oliver Laxe played the lead, a director making a film (this film) in the Moroccan desert with a cast of non-professionals. Awarded the Grand Prize at Cannes Critics Week earlier this year, Mimosas is undeniably stunning to look at, but its pacing and plotting both prove problematic.
The plot centres on a caravan of travellers, who are escorting a dying sheikh to the medieval city of Sijilmasa, where he wishes to be buried. When the sheikh dies en route, shady-looking caravan members Saïd (Aagli) and Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud) agree to transport his body and decide to cut the distance short by going through the Atlas Mountains. They are joined by the sheikh’s silent young widow, Ikram (Ikram Anzouli), and a religious stranger, Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar), who arrives mysteriously and claims to be have been sent to help them on their journey.
The caravan’s arduous journey across the mountains forms the majority of the film, with Shakib offering faith-based encouragement along the way, despite a multitude of dangers that include bandits, falling rocks and treacherous waters. Is the journey meant to be some sort of test? Or an allegory of some kind? Laxe’s script offers few clues, largely leaving the material open to the audience’s own interpretation.
The film’s ostensible structure offers no help in that regard. It’s divided into a prelude and three chapters, each named after different elements of Islamic prayer (bowing, standing and prostrating), although it’s a strain to thematically match the events (or lack of them) to the headings.
Fortunately, the film’s visual pleasures are more immediate. The landscape photography is stunning throughout, courtesy of cinematographer Mauro Herce, and there are elements of classic westerns (particularly in the river fording scene), as well as more oblique works, such as Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja and Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff.
Laxe gets impressive performances from his cast of non-professional actors, most of whom have clearly been chosen for their striking faces – Anzouli barely says a word, for example, but you can’t take your eyes off her whenever she appears on screen. Ben Omar is equally mesmerising, his wise fool routine accentuated by a disarming physicality.
The main problem is that just when you think you have a handle on the story and the film’s general direction, Mimosas slows to an interminable crawl, with long stretches where nothing is happening at all. Devotees of slow cinema will be richly rewarded, but for the less enlightened, the difficulty of getting through the film is almost as heavy-going as the journey it depicts.
Mimosas is available on MUBI UK, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. It is also screening across the UK at Picturehouse cinemas on Tuesday 19th September. Book tickets here