A bumbling thief plots to infiltrate a mausoleum built inexplicably on top of his buried loot in Alaa Eddine Aljem’s delightful, deadpan tale of spirituality and greed in rural Morocco.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2020
Landing somewhere between the drollery of Aki Kaurismäki and the surreal spin on crime and punishment perfected by the Coens, this tight little caper is a genuine calling card for its debut director Alaa Eddine Aljem. His brand of gentle absurdity is caked into the very premise: a thief, running low on time as the cops close in, buries a bag of stolen cash on a hill in the desert, fashioning a makeshift grave with rocks to better identify the spot later. When he’s finally released from prison, he returns to the spot to collect… only to discover that locals have mistaken his assembly of random rubble as a miracle grave for a non-existent saint. Not only have they erected a lavish shrine above the hiding place, but an entire village has been built below.
As the thief and his dim-witted accomplice begin a long-winded stake-out, Aljem expands the scope to involve a cast of oddball villagers, all unnamed archetypes whose fates converge in a manner perfectly befitting of the film’s fable-like structure. With a light comic touch, Aljem strings up the absurdity of blind faith while unearthing the humanity that draws us to such beliefs in the first place. A real find. — Judah Finnigan
About the Filmmaker
Alaa Eddine Aljem is a Moroccan director best known for the award-winning short film The Desert Fish (2015), which took the Critics, Screenwriting and Grand prizes at the Moroccan National Film Festival. The Unknown Saint is his first feature.