Mimosas ★★★★

[8]

My capsule review from my TIFF Wavelengths coverage for MUBI:

I’ll admit that at the start of Mimosas, as the film cross-cut between desert-dwelling men on horseback and a scrum of taxi drivers begging for assignments, I thought that director Oliver Laxe was toggling between past and present. In fact, these are simultaneous moments: a driver is being dispatched to assist a caravan that is having trouble traversing the mountains. These divergent views of Morocco demonstrate the uneven progress of modernity, as well as the phenomenon that anthropologist Johannes Fabian addressed in his book Time and the Other. We fail to recognize that cultures different from our own exist in the same contemporary timeframe that we do—“the present” being a luxury we arrogate to ourselves.

Of course, in describing these effects, I may very well be saying more about my own spectatorship than about Mimosas itself. Laxe’s film is remarkably rich, but it also provides plenty of room for Westerners like myself to lose our footing, slipping into rank self-indictment. In the simplest possible terms, it’s a film about the literal weight of tradition. An aging sheikh (Hamid Fardjad) wants to cross a treacherous mountain pass so he can be buried in the town of his birth. He dies early in the expedition, and the youngest of the group must decide whether to carry out his wishes, at great personal risk. The primary conflict arises between Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud), the cynical, agnostic leader of the group, who is much more concerned with survival, and the driver, Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar), a.k.a. “Pot Face,” a devout, idealistic young man dedicated to making Ahmed keep his word and get the sheikh’s body over the mountain.
Often, films depicting sections of the Arab world can suffer because their makers feel a surfeit of responsibility, trying too hard to represent the intricate specificities of a particular culture.

Paradoxically, this often translates into characters that function much more as archetypes than as recognizable individuals. Laxe, who lives in Morocco, is nevertheless an outsider, and perhaps this distance helps him to see his collaborators a bit more clearly. Although Mimosas is not without its stock characters and recognizable functions—it’s essentially a Western, very much in the John Ford / Howard Hawks mode—we get to know these highly idiosyncratic outcasts by watching them struggle against a limpid but unforgiving landscape. (Viewers will notice a strong kinship with recent neo-neo-Westerns like Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff and Thomas Arslan’s Gold.) Laxe produces genuine moral dilemmas, not “typical situations.” By attending to the most basic problem of visual art—figures in a landscape—Laxe pinpoints the quotidian extraordinary.

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