"Mimosas": If You Do It Well, I'll Do It Better

in 69th Cannes Film Festival

by Pamela Biénzobas

You are here to guide us, Shakib. You have no knowledge, no experience. But in your innocent ignorance you are the depositary of all the wisdom in the world, and that is enough for you to face any danger, any challenge, with your moving, fearless determination. You have faith, Shakib. You are blessed. And you have a mission.

There are films you watch, you understand, you think, others that you mainly experience, you feel, you live. Mimosas is among the latter. Morocco-based, Paris-born Spanish filmmaker Oliver Laxe returned to Cannes in 2016 with his intriguing sophomore feature-length work six years after premiering his debut, You All Are Captains (Todos vós sodes capitáns) at the Directors’ Fortnight, and receiving FIPRESCI’s award for the parallel sections. This time, he took home the “Grand Prix” of the 55th edition of La Semaine de la Critique.

In a taxi through endless desert plains, or on a mule through inhospitable gorges in the Atlas Mountains, Mimosas invites us on a journey. It invites us to join a caravan. Where to? Where through? Why? These questions are almost accessory. The group travelling by foot through rocky passages initially accompanies a Sheikh who knows his death is near and wishes to be buried in his hometown of Sijilmasa. He puts the group at risk, but his authority is so natural that it goes unquestioned. In a parallel reality, the leader of a flock of taxis assigns Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar) to go find the caravan and guide it to its destination, and to take special care of one its members, Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud). Somewhere between the village fool and the village sage, Shakib is aware of his limitations, but counts on his faith as his mightiest weapon. By the time he finds the caravan, the Sheikh has already died. Ahmed and Said (Said Aagli), two members of the escort, assure the widow and the rest of the group they will finish the task and take the body to its destination – now followed by the unexpected travel companion Shakib, who proposes his help as a shepherd. They don’t know the way, but they’ve given their word. And, as Said says in a moment of crisis, it would be the first important thing they had ever accomplished in their lives. We head out with these three souls lost (but not lost souls) in the snowy mountains, carrying a corpse, guided only by their sometimes shaky faith and determination, ultimately searching for enlightenment. “If you do it well, I’ll do it better,” Shakib repeats like a mantra, in his beautifully stubborn will to better himself.

Mimosas has been described as a “metaphysical Western,” in an attempt to find familiar references that could help to rationally seize the experience, or at least make it more accessible through language. It is certainly metaphysical. It is indeed religious and, though its located within a specific belief – Islam; structurally it is even punctuated, as in three chapter headings, by the Muslim prayer positions Ruku (bowing), Qiyam, (standing) and Sajda (prostrating) – it is in no way confining, and can be read as a way of conveying a much more universal and transcendental belief: faith in the human being and in a selfless notion of service to others.

The allusion to a classic film genre, on the other hand, has little to do with the political aspect of the Western and its clash of civilisations, or its violent and greedy concept of conquest. The association is mainly justified by the spacial dimension. In Mimosas, the communion of the bodies with the landscape is fundamental. Mauro Herce’s cinematography captures magnificently the overwhelming and humbling nature, which can at the same time nourish the spirit and put the body in danger. As in the Western, the latent menace of a mostly invisible other permanently haunts the heroes, while the chance encounter with other adventurers may bring new, unexpected bonds of responsibility.

Mimosas is a breathing, expanding work, which grows beyond the screen and does not demand any explanation or submission from the viewers, as long as they are willing to share the experience and allow the film to unfold freely. This open quality is especially clear in Ben Rivers’s film and installation The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (http://theskytrembles.com), a beautiful and generous collaboration between the projects, which enlarges the mysterious narrative and aesthetic possibilities of Mimosas even wider.

Edited by Rita Di Santo