Oliver Laxe’s second film Mimosas is an enigmatic, spiritual North African odyssey.
Desert Heartsby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Mimosas won the Nespresso Grand Prize in Critics’ Week at Cannes. It’s inspired by director Oliver Laxe’s travels in Morocco with Saïd Aagli, who plays one of the characters, also called Saïd.
The film cuts between what look like two different eras which combine into a single narrative. In one, a caravan of people on horseback is escorting a dying sheikh across desert and the Atlas mountains to fulfil his wish to be buried in his holy home city of Sijilmasa. In another, a contemporary scene of taxi drivers competing for work in the market place is dominated by Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar). An impassioned amateur preacher of biblical appearance, he is the one who is given the job in question and we see him next ransported from the present day to a pre-car world where he suddenly appears on the mountainside and joins the sheik’s caravan.
When the sheikh dies en route, the journey takes on mythic proportions as the group debate among themselves whether to bury the corpse where they are or to complete the hard task and carry it over the mountains. Vulnerable in their isolated location, they meet an aged merchant and his mute daughter and are threatened by the presence of bandits.
Saïd and Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud), who seem to have had plans to steal from the dead man, claim to know the way through the mountains, though this may not be true. Shakib increasingly appeals to faith, which he feels will guide the way.
The film is structured into three acts named for the different elements of Islamic prayer, which may reflect the progression of the physical and spiritual journey. Shot in stunning scenery of vast plains, moonlit lakes and forbidding mountains, visually it’s breathtaking but it moves at patience-testing speed with non-professional actors and ultimately Laxe leaves the meaning open to interpretation.
Mimosas screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 6 and 7 October 2016.