A caravan traverses the Atlas Mountains.
In a mesmerizing new film from Moroccan director Oliver Laxe, treacherous mountains and windswept deserts overwhelm characters on very different spiritual journeys.
Mimosas, which won the Critics Week Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and screens Feb. 3 at UW-Cinematheque, also has an ambiguous, elliptical narrative that merges two plotlines.
A dying sheik instructs his caravan to pass through the Atlas Mountains so that he can be buried near his family. The sheik dies on the dangerous pass, and most caravan members seek a safer route. Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud) promises the sheik’s widow he will continue with the corpse to fulfil the sheik’s final wish, but his true intention is unclear.
The second plotline begins with a taxi company manager assigning cars to drivers looking for work. Those not assigned a vehicle remain in the lot to listen to Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar), a simpleton who likes to recite religious parables. The manager whisks Shakib away in a caravan of taxis for a special assignment. Once they reach the desert, the manager instructs Shakib to assist a caravan led by a sheik, and to take care of a man named Ahmed.
Back in the mountains, Ahmed meets a shepherd named Shakib (same actor, but not a taxi driver). Ahmed breaks his promise and allows a horse carrying the corpse to wander off. Shakib insists that they find the corpse and continue the journey.
The overlap between plotlines continues as characters first seen in traditional dress appear in urban dress, and vice versa. The time and place of a given scene matters less than the theme of maintaining faith in the face of adversity. Faith leads Shakib to action, while cynicism dooms Ahmed to remain lost.
Laxe has described Mimosas as a “religious western,” and at times he seems to channel John Ford’s The Searchers. He takes his time with stunning landscapes, but maintains a refreshingly brisk pace despite the film’s contemplative tone.
In translation, western genre references become more explicitly spiritual. Ahmed asks Shakib how they could possibly survive a standoff akin to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. “With love!,” Shakib assures him, “We’ll do it with love.”
Shakib speaks in metaphors, but remains more grounded than Ahmed. By exploiting ambiguities in the narrative, Mimosas delivers emotional truth and a spiritual clarity.