The Gravedigger’s Wife Review – Gentle, Funny Drama of Man and His Sick Spouse

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Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s strong, big-hearted film is the classy story of a man seeking money for his wife’s operation

Guled (Omar Abdi) is a gravedigger, who lives with his wife Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) and young son Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim); he is in fact more like an itinerant labourer, hanging out with other gravediggers with their shovels over their shoulders, waiting for work; they occasionally even chase ambulances into the hospital forecourt, eagerly clustering round as the poor patient is carted out, hoping for the worst. But when his wife is diagnosed with a serious kidney illness, needing an emergency operation costing $5,000, Guled is struck with a sickening realisation, never explicitly spelled out, as to whose grave he might be digging next. The only conceivable way of getting the money is to trek back to his family in his remote home village, whom he deserted to run away with Nasra in the first place, to claim back his “share” of the family goat herd and somehow get it back to the big city to sell.

This is a big-hearted film with a strong sense of storytelling, but my favourite moment is a subtle touch at the beginning. One gravedigger is regaling the others after work with a funny (if familiar) story: a bunch of rats are sitting around wondering how they will protect themselves against a local predatory cat. The cleverest rat has the idea of them putting a bell on the cat; all the other rats agree, impressed by this rat’s cleverness; but one “stupid” rat says: wait, who’s going to put the bell on the cat? The gravedigger is extremely pleased with himself and his joke with a cleverness of his own, proud of the irony with which he called the dissenting rat “stupid”, possibly even proud of exposing the stupidity of any gravediggers who didn’t get it or couldn’t themselves tell a joke half as well – but just as he triumphantly delivers the punchline, he misses his footing and slides into the open grave, making himself look stupid and the gravediggers laugh at him, not with him. It is a very sharp jab at hubris: this same gravedigger later turns out to be too shy to talk to a woman he’s in love with, and needs Guled to introduce them. It’s a film with shrewdness and charm.

* The Gravedigger’s Wife is released on 21 October in cinemas.
Peter Bradshaw

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