The young Moroccan director Alaa Eddine Aljem signs, with his feature film “The Miracle of the Unknown Saint” released on January 1st in France, the first film that focuses on burlesque, very endearing and joyful.
Talking about religion in the cinema in a Muslim country with an emphasis on comedy is not an easy task. But it is not impossible or even risky, especially if, in the last resort, we are not talking about religion, in this case Islam, but rather about belief and superstitions that only come to life to twist it. This is demonstrated by the very endearing and delightful film by the young Moroccan director Alaa Eddine Aljem, The Miracle of the Unknown Saint.
The story it tells is intended to be minimal. A thief who has just managed to get away with a big heist, chased by the police, buries his bag in a hurry just before he gets arrested. The bag, which contains his money, is at the top of a hill in a desert place. After burying the stolen money in the sand, he decides, to protect the cache, to give it the appearance of a grave that no one will dare to desecrate.
Released from prison many years later, he returns to the place to recover “his” money. To discover that on the site of this mysterious tomb a mausoleum has been built, watched over by a guard, to honor what is supposed to be the last resting place of an unknown saint. It is even claimed that this saint can perform miracles, and the place has become a popular place of pilgrimage. So much so that a brand new village has been built below to house, feed and supply various religious and secular goods to those who come here.
The whole film will then consist in telling the story of the misfortune of this thief who tries many times and by all means to sneak into the place that has become sacred and well guarded, in order to finally profit from his robbery.
This film does not try to be realistic, of course, and should be seen as a vivid tale, made, sequence after sequence, a bit like a comic book. With picturesque characters, both the “hero”, an amoral but sympathetic loser magnificently played by Younès Bouab, and all the other protagonists of the story (the irascible guardian of the mausoleum, the local doctor and his nurse worthy of a doctor Knock, the old peasant who has been waiting for ten years for the rain to fall to irrigate his land, etc.), who are not named, are almost always mute and live funny situations.
The result is a feature film that focuses on burlesque, perhaps a little slow and repetitive at times, but that we can see from one end to the other with great pleasure. A comedy more serious than it seems at first glance. Avoiding the pitfalls of profanity and without ever mocking, it makes joyful scenes of the effects of first-degree belief and the commodification of what we want to believe to be sacred. A first feature film by a very promising author.