A serious comedy, if you will, from Morocco about the intersection between blind faith and personal greed in an unsuspecting new town.
Dir. Alaa Eddine Aljem
2019 | Morocco | Drama/Comedy/Crime | 100 mins | 1.85:1 | Arabic
Not rated (likely to be PG13)
Cast: Younes Bouab, Salah Ben Saleh, Bouchaib Semmak
Plot: Moments before his capture by police, a thief digs a grave to hide a bag of money. Released from prison years later, he returns to retrieve the bag, only to find a shrine to an unknown Saint built directly over his loot, and a brand new village constructed all around it.
Awards: Nom. for Critics’ Week Grand Prize & Camera d’Or (Cannes)
International Sales: The Match Factory
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
In this debut feature by Moroccan writer-director Alaa Eddine Aljem, we see what he is aiming for from the onset—a ‘serious comedy’ that explores the limits of blind faith and the consequences of personal greed as these themes intersect in absurd yet intriguing ways.
The pleasure of watching it all unfold comes from how Aljem captures the personal frustrations of his assortment of characters without anyone resorting to dramatic displays of untamed emotions. In other words, The Unknown Saint is about people who need some change in their lives, yet are bogged down by their own self-inflicted stagnancy.
Each person’s despair is kept within, but this performative restraint, if you will, is balanced by Aljem’s intentionally contrived premise: A thief buries a bag of money in the middle of a desert minutes before he is arrested. When he is released years later, he returns to the site only to find that a holy shrine has been erected and a new town has sprung up.
The sickly pray for health, while an old man asks the heavens for rain in the never-ending drought. The town’s bored new doctor, and even more restless male nurse, prescribe the same medicine to everyone, no matter the ailment. It’s hard to believe that people still continue to stay in this blisteringly hot locale.
The Unknown Saint does take its time, but in the end, it is a mildly funny film about false hopes—but that’s certainly better than having none at all.