Alaa Eddine Aljem’s first feature, The Unknown Saint premiered in Critics’ Week at Cannes in 2019, but has since found a place in Middle East Now festival’s this past summer and as Morocco’s submission for 2021 Oscar best international feature film.
With a sense of humour as dry as its setting, The Unknown Saint is an absurd comedy about a thief who buries his loot, making the place of burial appear like a grave. Upon returning to the grave, he sees that it has become the mausoleum of The Unknown Saint, to which people come to cure. The rest of the movie focuses on his mission to retrieve his money from the mausoleum.
The village in which the action takes place is made of nothing but rocks and dust. There, time passes by slowly and the people of the village have to find something to do, be it going to the barber’s every day, or going to the doctor just for a change of scenery.
The movie has constant sources of humour, feeding on the scarceness of its characters’ dialogue, on expectation-meets-reality (namely the transformation that the doctor undergoes upon arrival, turning from the excitement of being able to help others to cynism and complicity regarding the assistant’s procedure of giving everyone the same pills to treat their imaginary illnesses, as well as planning pranks on the other villagers in order to escape boredom), on ridiculously massive united efforts for an improbable cause (the dog with golden teeth), on hopeful-spirituality-meets-pragmatism (the father who mistakes the sound of dynamite for a thunder announcing rain), the blandness of lives lived by some otherwise eccentric people, and let’s not forget the comic duo of „the Brain” and the (unknown) Thief.
The Unknown Saint succeeds in being a smart, quirky satire on religious superstitions. Hence, writer-director Alaa Eddine Aljem impresses with a movie that manages to be suspenseful and hilarious at the same time, the perfect way to relax on a rainy evening. The movie can be found on screening services like Netflix.