The Unknown Saint (2019)

Movie Info

Movie Info

Alaa Eddine Aljem
Run Time
1 hour and 40 minutes
Not Rated

VP Content Ratings

Sex & Nudity
Star Rating
★★★★4.5 out of 5

Relevant Quotes

Man proposes, but God disposes.

           Proverbs 19:21-23 (Living Bible)

(Le Miracle du Saint Inconnu)

The theif comes to the shrine for buried money but pilgrms come for healing. (c) The Match Factory

Moroccan screenwriter and director Alaa Eddine Aljem’s first feature film was his nation’s entry into the Oscar race in 2021. And a worthy one it is, serving as a drolly comic morality tale of greed and human planning gone awry.

The film opens in the Moroccan desert where Amine (Younes Bouab) is fleeing the police. He stops his car at a tall mound with a small tree at its summit, climbs up to the top and hurriedly buries a satchel full of money. He makes it appear to be a grave by heaping dirt into a mound and placing a large stone at the “head.” Soon he is caught and sent to prison.

Some years later he emerges from the prison gate and drives to the mound, easily identifiable by the tree. But he is surprised because now there are steps leading up one side of the mound, and adjoining the tree is a small colorful shrine. A metal sign affixed to the front wall is dedicated to “The Unknown Saint.”

What to do, with so many pilgrims about? Indeed, a once abandoned village close by now is inhabited, thanks to the pilgrims who come and spend their money for food and lodging. Amine decides to check in at the local inn. The clerk is more interested in his book than a potential customer, but when Amine finally gains his attention, he discovers he does not have enough money to pay for a room. A man passing by sees his difficulty and provides what is needed.

As Amine surveys the top of the mound he is upset that a guard (lice Abdelghani Kitab) and his dog are posted at the shrine all night long. By now he has summoned an accomplice, Ahmed, who had been a cellmate in prison. We learn that during their banter he calls himself “The Brain.” During one of their many squabbles (the latter because nothing they come up with works) Amine points out that the nick name was given him by their fellow prisoners in jest, they actually, regarding him as dumb. This was while attempts to lure the guard away have failed, and “The Brain” had taken matters into his own hands and during the day had run down the dog with his car. Later he becomes afraid to dig up the grave because he is afraid of the Unknown Saint, even though he knows that no one is buried there.

Meanwhile, we get to know other villagers. What an eccentric lot they are:

-The Barber/Dentist (Ahmed Yarziz) whose shop the locals hangout in. The villages have wrongfully guessed that Amine has come to the village to, as he lied, to study the rocks, so they refer to him as The Scientist. When he comes into the shop for a shave, The Barber insists that he jump the line because of his respectable vocation. None of the layabouts dispute this. There is a running gag in which he keeps in a drawer a superior shaving cream reserved only for special customers.

-Old Brahim (Mohammed Nouaimane) has spent years praying for rain to come and bring new life into the parched ground. Now confined to his sickbed, his son constantly tries to persuade him to leave the village with him.

-Also among the villagers is the newly arrived doctor, Kamal (Anas El Baz). His male nurse (Hassan Ben Bdida), bored with the mundane village life. Several women are always in the waiting room, not for medicine, because they find their cures up at the shrine, but for social causes. Whatever the complaints they make to the doctor, The Nurse hands him a box of pills.

When the Guard’s injured dog is brought to the Doctor, not only does he perform an operation, but because the teeth have been shattered, turns the animal over to the Barber who is also serves as the village dentist. He grafts gold teeth into the animal’s mouth. What a sight!

You will laugh at how Amine, bereft of Ahmed’s assistance, attempts to carry out his plan. This is director Alaa Eddine Aljem’s first feature film—hard to believe, he handles the zany antics of the character so deftly. His is one of those dry comedies in which if there were a Greek chorus, it would be saying “What fools thee mortals be!”

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