Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Ethiopia/USA/Qatar, 2021. Doha Film Institute, Flies Collective, Ford Foundation – Just Films, Merkhana Films, Neon Heart Productions, The Jerome Foundation, The Open Society Foundation, XTR. Screenplay by Jessica Beshir. Cinematography by Jessica Beshir. Produced by Jessica Beshir. Music by Adrian Aniol, William Basinski, Kaethe Hostetter. Film Editing by Jeanne Applegate, Dustin Waldman.
A rural village in Ethiopia is barely kept going by the harvesting and selling of khat, a plant that has long been a significant part of ritual and respite in the culture and is now a cash crop, and in some cases, an addictive blight. Khat induces a trancelike state that is appealing to those who chew it, and Jessica Beshir’s slow, steady rhythm, inky black and white cinematography and gentle observations of a number of figures creates almost the same effect.
We observe the entire process of the production of khat from cutting it in the fields to bagging it for market, along the way learning the tales of individuals with a variety of experiences to share, one who left his home country at great expense to pursue his fortune further north in Africa, then in Europe, before coming back home to be with his family, another who is dealing with his father’s addiction to khat and the trouble it makes at home.
Struggling marriages, loving parents and the regular sounds of people buying and selling in the open market are focused on in an always respectful and reverent manner: Beshir is honest about the crushing poverty that places these people on the precipice of survival every day, and subtly presents the commodification of a sacred cultural plant into an industry that, ironically, is helping to preserve this culture.
Despite the overt artistic manner in which she presents her subject, with every shot looking like a prize-winning photograph, this mesmerizing film gives a deep sense of having traveled to this place and experienced its hypnotic atmosphere.