Love, Compassion and Selflessness


How far can one’s sense of compassion and helpfulness extend? In an age of rampant self-absorption, that’s a good question. So many individuals today are preoccupied with their own needs, wants and whims that they may be wholly dismissive of such commendable qualities. At the same time, though, there are also remarkably sympathetic souls who will readily go to the wall for others, gestures that those who are less considerate may look upon as strange or even unfathomable. Thankfully, however, those admirable kindhearted oddballs are still around, as seen in the charming new comedy-drama/character study, “Brighton 4th” (web site, trailer).

Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili), an aging onetime Georgian wrestling champ, never seems to stop quietly caring about others. He lives a modestly comfortable life in Tbilisi with his wife, Maka (Laura Rekhviashvili), who spends much of her time bedridden (and who Kakhi lovingly attends to). But she’s not the only one he cares for. As best he can, he also tries to help out his brother (Temur Gvalia), who has a gambling problem, often frittering away hard-earned funds intended for more important purposes. But the one he’s most concerned about is his son, Soso (Giorgi Tabidze), who has relocated to New York – and whom Kakhi hasn’t heard much out of for some time.

Concerned and curious about what’s going on with Soso, Kakhi decides to visit him. Soso’s purpose in moving to New York was to study medicine and become an American doctor. However, when Kakhi arrives, he finds the situation is not what he believed it to be. Soso lives in a shabby boarding house run by Kakhi’s sister-in-law, Natela (Tsutsa Kapanadze), in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood, home to many émigrés from Russia and other former Soviet states. Instead of studying for exams, Soso works for a moving company, trying to earn enough money to pay off a $14,000 gambling debt owed to Amir (Yuri Zur), a local mafioso. He’s also attempting to raise cash to bankroll a green card wedding to Lena (Nadezhda Mikhalkova), a Georgian immigrant who’s become a naturalized citizen, so that he can legally stay in the US. But, despite his efforts at getting back on his feet, Soso keeps digging a deeper hole for himself due to his uncontrolled appetite for playing cards (and not very well).

Devoted father Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili, left) travels from his native Georgia to New York to check up on his uncommunicative son, Soso (Giorgi Tabidze, right), only to find that things are not what he believed them to be in the new comedy-drama/character study, “Brighton 4th.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Needless to say, Kakhi is quietly disappointed by what he sees. However, as the loving father he is, he wants to help his son turn things around. What’s more, as the newest resident of Brighton Beach, he’s eager to help the cadre of other colorful Georgian immigrants who live in his boarding house and the surrounding neighborhood, doing whatever he can to be of service. For example, he freely comes to the aid of Nana (Irma Gachechiladze), a cleaning woman who hasn’t been paid in months by her Kazakh hotelier boss, Farik (Tolepbergen Baisakalov), an encounter in which Kakhi’s muscular prowess as a former wrestler proves quite useful. He’s also willing to get creative in the measures he employs to be of help, as seen in a hilariously unconventional confrontation with Amir.

Through it all, Kakhi is a good friend to everyone he meets, doling out wise advice to those in need of it, such as Lena and Sergo (Kakhi Kavsadze), an elderly singing maître-d who lives in the boarding house. In line with this, he does whatever he can to ease the pain of others, as seen in conversations with Maka and Natela in which he smilingly assures them that all is well with their loved ones. His tactics may involve stretching the truth a little (or even a lot), but his concern for sparing others’ feelings is paramount with him. He’s also quick to forgive, especially when he can tell that others are sincere in their desire for atonement, engaging in acts of compassion and tolerance toward them that most of his cohorts are not so willing to dispense.

At the same time, Kakhi is nobody’s fool, either, and he’s not inclined to indulge those who take advantage of his kindness and good graces. This becomes apparent when Natela secures a job for him as a caretaker for an elderly couple, Tsilya (Mary Caputo) and Simon (Lew Gardner). Kakhi accepts the position in good faith, but he soon sours on it when Tsilya shamelessly comes onto him, often in front of Simon, acts that bewilder her husband and offend her new caregiver. Needless to say, the job doesn’t last long.

Such selflessness is indeed admirable, but, then, that’s who Kakhi is. But, given the magnitude of what he takes on, can he realistically work miracles every time? That’s what gets put to the test in this odyssey in New York. Indeed, Kakhi is used to “wrestling” with challenging circumstances; it’s something he’s done all his life, in various forms and generally quite successfully. But can he make it happen again?

Georgian immigrant Soso (Giorgi Tabidze, right) contemplates a convenient but expensive green card wedding to a naturalized citizen, Lena (Nadezhda Mikhalkova, left), as a means to legally stay in the US in director Levan Koguashvili’s third narrative feature, “Brighton 4th,” now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

The world could use more souls like Kakhi, especially these days. The acts of individuals like him are truly laudable. What’s perhaps most impressive, however, is how naturally these gestures seem to come to them. They step in without question, providing compassionate assistance when needed, with nothing expected in return. They genuinely embody the notion of the Samaritan whenever honest, honorable help is required. That’s the key in understanding them, for this is what constitutes their true selves. And, as their true selves, this is what enables them to carry out their deeds so successfully. They sincerely believe in what they’re doing, a point crucial to the unfolding of their existence, for their thoughts, beliefs and intents shape their reality.

Being true to ourselves is integral to manifesting the existence we desire. By drawing upon belief reserves driven by our honesty and integrity, we come closer to achieving our aspirations, and that’s especially true – and beneficial – in matters of compassion. It enables us to be the individuals we truly want to be, and it shows in the results, as it very much does with Kakhi.

In many instances, pulling off such acts of selflessness requires us to be both courageous and creative, qualities readily apparent in how Kakhi operates. As he tackles the challenges before him, he never shies away from them. And, if he needs to take an unconventional approach to how he proceeds, he’ll avail himself of the creativity required to make it happen. His use of these attributes in his various ventures thus provides us with examples of how to proceed in our own undertakings as the need for them arises.

In Kakhi’s case, his actions and their underlying beliefs illustrate what it means to be devoted to those we care about, our family and friends. As our companions on this journey we call life, they’re the ones who matter the most to us, and it’s best to demonstrate that in our acts and deeds. Kakhi understands this and thus knows what it takes to make life truly fulfilling. We should all follow his lead to make our – and their – existence more rewarding, even when circumstances take a downward turn. Life can indeed be redeeming, even if we’re not the ones to bring it about on our own, so it’s at times like these when we can be thankful for the Kakhis in our lives.

Former wrestling champ Kakhi (Levan Tedaishvili) often goes it alone when he’s not looking to help others in need as seen in the bittersweet comedy-drama/character study, “Brighton 4th.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

That’s what director Levan Koguashvili’s third narrative feature explores in this heart-tugging comedy-drama/character study.  The film’s carefully crafted portrait of its Samaritan protagonist shows how it’s possible to help make things right for others, no matter what it takes, including the employment of everything from “polite” physical intimidation to telling “good lies” to assuage tender feelings. The result is a touching tale that stirs an array of viewer emotions, feelings brought out by the fine performance of Levan Tedaishvili, himself a former Olympic wrestling champion turned actor appearing here in only his second screen role. While the narrative tends to meander somewhat at times, the pieces that make up this story nevertheless collectively depict a close-knit community, with Kakhi at the center, made up of individuals who support one another through thick and thin and still rely on such traditional conventions as good faith and personal honor, even in dealings of a shady nature. We can learn a lot from that in a day and age when such values have come to be seen as outmoded and sentimentally quaint, a lesson that can help us wrestle with life’s challenges while maintaining an honorable sense of dignity and decency.

“Brighton 4th” has primarily been playing the film festival circuit, though it is now available for streaming online. Along the way, the picture has been well received by critics and viewers, especially in New York, the setting of the story. At the Tribeca Film Festival, this offering came up a trifecta winner in the international narrative feature competition, capturing the event’s awards for best picture, actor (Tedaishvili) and screenplay. That’s quite an accomplishment for a film that was cast with mostly inexperienced and nonprofessional actors, a true testament to the strength of this release.

We can all use a little help from time to time, and we should be thankful when individuals like Kakhi cross our paths. His kind of help exemplifies the altruistic principles depicted in films like “Pay It Forward” (2000), wherein assistance flows freely from us, with no expectations in return (even though the good feelings that come back to us often provide us with sufficient reward in their own right). It makes life in places like Tbilisi and Brighton Beach that much more manageable, especially under the challenging conditions their inhabitants must often endure. And that, in itself, can make life more worth living.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Highlights from the Milwaukee Film Festival

I recently had the pleasure of streaming the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival and was quite pleased with what I saw! The event, which ran from April 21 to May 5, featured an excellent selection of offerings in both theatrical and virtual screenings. Most, though not all, of the films were made available on the internet for cinephiles throughout the US, making it possible for a potentially wide audience of movie lovers to see this great collection of offerings. The streaming quality was superb, and the Milwaukee Film staff was extremely helpful with technical and customer service questions. I recommend this event highly and definitely look forward to a return visit in 2023.

I managed to screen 20 films over the course of the festival. Of those that I watched, I gave scores of 5 out of 5 stars for four of the titles, summary reviews of which appear below. For a look at everything I watched, check out my blog, “Wrapping Up the 2022 Milwaukee Film Festival,” available by clicking here.


“892” (USA) (web site)

Justice ignored is indeed justice denied. What’s more, it’s an open invitation to things easily getting out of hand as the tension behind this is dialed up to an exaggerated level. That’s precisely what happens in this taut, fact-based drama about Iraq War veteran Brian Brown-Easley (John Boyega), whose VA disability benefits got lost in the bureaucracy and left him homeless and desperate – so much so that he took drastic measures to inform the public about his situation and that of many of his peers. Director Abi Damaris Corbin’s second feature outing is a riveting, albeit disturbing, watch from start to finish, casting a long shadow of shame on those who lack the decency and humanity to care for those who made the effort to care for us. The picture’s stellar ensemble cast, which captured the 2022 Sundance Film Festival Award in this category, is superb across the board, featuring the best portrayal ever turned in by Boyega (who has come a long way from his “Star Wars” outings) and an excellent performance by the late Michael K. Williams in one of his final roles. This Sundance Dramatic Grand Jury Prize nominee is by no means an easy film to screen, but it’s one that anyone interested in seeing justice served should watch – and take action about to see that it’s not denied again.

“Mama Bears” (USA) (web site) 

When faced with a hard choice, what is one to do? For the fundamentalist Christian mothers of LGBTQ+ children, that’s a key question when it comes to accepting or denying the truth about their kids. The decision is often dictated to them by their religious leaders, a clear-cut judgment that’s supposed to be embraced without question, summarily swept under the rug quickly and presumably easily. But, for some parents in this situation, that’s not the case, for they love their children, no matter who they may be or whatever lifestyles they have chosen to adopt. Yet, at the same time, out of fear for what their peers will say, they’re hesitant to step forward, follow their hearts and reject what they’re told to do. That’s not the case, however, for the Mama Bears, a group of courageous Christian women who have chosen to defy the dictates and do what they know in their hearts is right – love and accept their kids, regardless of the consequences. Director Daresha Kyi’s superb documentary of this courageous movement follows the history of its founding, growth and activism, along with profiles of three mothers who have sought to come to terms with their gay, lesbian and trans children and love them just the same. This inspiring film about heroic parents conveys an uplifting message without becoming indignant, preachy or heavy-handed. Rather, it shows that love is love and deserves to be respected no matter what form it takes – and regardless what the close-minded of society may think.

“Memory Box” (Lebanon/Canada/France/Qatar) (web site, trailer) 

When we think we know someone but subsequently find out we don’t know that individual at all, the impact can be surprising, if not disillusioning, especially when it involves someone close, like a family member. That’s the experience of Alex (Paloma Vauthier), a young Canadian woman of Lebanese descent, who discovers that her mother, Maia (Rim Turki), is not the person she thought she was. It’s a revelation that comes about when Maia receives a package filled with memorabilia from her upbringing in Beirut during the 1980s Lebanese Civil War, a time of devastating trauma mixed with a wondrous coming of age experience. Maia is not anxious to review the contents of the box, despite the many questions posed by Alex regarding the stockpile of notebooks, photos and cassette tapes contained therein. She even goes so far as to forbid Alex from reviewing the materials or asking about them, an order that’s promptly and secretively ignored. By reading the journals, looking at the pictures and listening to the recordings, she discovers things about her mother’s younger self (Manal Issa) that she never knew – tragedies she experienced, passions she possessed but has since abandoned, secrets about her extended family and loves lost – events that changed Maia drastically from the person she used to be in her youth. And, when Maia learns that Alex has been clandestinely perusing these materials, it sets up a confrontation, a dialogue and a metamorphosis that neither of them previously saw coming. In their fourth narrative collaboration, directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have produced an engaging film that captivates throughout, capably nurturing the level of suspense and zapping viewers with carefully crafted, intensely moving disclosures, followed by moments of heartbreak, rebirth and encouragement. Despite a slight tendency to drag a bit toward the end of the first hour, “Memory Box” deservedly earns the interest it garners and the emotions it evokes across a wide spectrum of feelings, all told through a story that takes place during a period in history that has previously received precious little cinematic attention. This one is well worth a watch.

“Scarborough” (Canada) (web site, trailer) 

Living life on the edge may not breed much hope for the future, yet it’s amazing how often those who struggle under such conditions manage to hold out expectations for its arrival. Such is the message of this incredibly stirring release about the lives of a group of occupants of the Toronto neighborhood of Scarborough, a low-income section of the city that’s home to many immigrant and working class residents. This often-gritty, sometimes-heartwarming, occasionally heartbreaking coming of age tale focuses on the lives of four kids (Liam Diaz, Mekiya Fox, Anna Claire Beitel, Felix Jedi Ingram Isaac) and their parents, all of whom become acquainted through their interaction at a literacy center run by a compassionate facilitator (Aliya Kanani) who does her best to provide as much assistance and support as her resources will allow. The result is a realistic but supremely touching film that exudes a spirit and magic of its own, reaching out to viewers, drawing them in and never letting them go until the lights come up. That’s quite an accomplishment for a picture with a runtime of almost 2:20:00, one that moves by at a steady pace that never sags or grows tiresome. Directors Shasha Nakhai and Rich Williamson have turned out a truly remarkable debut offering deserving of its eight 2021 Canadian Screen Awards (on 11 total nominations), including best picture, first feature, actor, supporting actress, director, adapted screenplay, casting and sound editing. This was without a doubt my favorite film of the festival, a picture truly deserving of a general release for the hope it instills even when things are at their bleakest.

Celebrating Leaps of Faith

Have you ever considered taking a leap of faith to achieve a cherished goal? It takes courage. It takes conviction. And it takes a reasoned appraisal of our chances of success. But, no matter how thoroughly we examine the circumstances, there’s still a bit of a gamble involved, and that’s where the element of faith genuinely comes into play. How often is it, though, that the leap in question is both literal and figurative? So it was for an ambitious asylum seeker in the new Lithuanian-American documentary production, “The Jump” (“Suolis”) (web site, trailer).

For years, Simas Kudirka served as a radio operator aboard the Soviet trawler Sovietskaya Litva. When he wasn’t aboard ship, he lived with his family in the Soviet state of Lithuania, but he longed for the freedom that he believed awaited him outside the USSR. He hoped for an opportunity to avail himself of that prospect, and, amazingly enough, it finally arrived on November 23, 1970 off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

While the Sovietskaya Litva was moored in American waters adjacent to the US Coast Guard cutter Vigilant for a diplomatic conference about fishing rights, Kudirka scanned the distance between his ship and the American vessel. Kudirka was sizing up what it would take to jump ship and land on the deck of the Coast Guard cutter. As he did this, an American sailor watched Kudirka, trying to determine his intentions, an assessment that went on for several hours. And, by late afternoon, the courageous radio operator made his move, jumping the 12-foot span separating the trawler and hoped-for freedom.

Onetime asylum seeker Simas Kudirka relives his 1970 attempt at defecting from the USSR to the US by leaping from a Soviet trawler to the deck of an American Coast Guard cutter while the vessels were in the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts as seen in the new documentary, “The Jump” (“Suolis”). Photo courtesy of MetFilms.

Once on the American vessel, Kudirka requested political asylum, but the Vigilant’s crew was unsure how to respond. The ship’s commanding officer, Ralph W. Eustis, and his lieutenant, Paul E. Pakos, assessed options and eventually contacted Rear Admiral William B. Ellis for guidance. Somewhat surprisingly, Ellis refused Kudirka’s request and ordered him returned to the Soviets, despite the asylum seeker’s presence on an American vessel in US waters. He allowed a team of six Soviet sailors onto the Vigilant to retrieve the would-be defector, who was beaten and extracted back to the trawler. Kudirka was then returned to the Soviet Union, where he was tried for treason and sentenced to 10 years in a gulag.

So much for Kudirka’s hopes of freedom. Or so it seemed. Before long, it became apparent that all was not lost.

When word of the incident made it into the American press, considerable outrage arose over its handling. The story’s widespread coverage in print and on national news broadcasts incensed many in the general public, especially in the Lithuanian immigrant community. Many of Kudirka’s American émigré countrymen took up the fight on his behalf, petitioning the support of influential politicians like Congressman Robert P. Hanrahan (R-IL), who fought for the seaman’s release. Even high-ranking officials, like Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and President Richard Nixon, criticized the handling of the incident and sought restitution.

But, even with such high-powered support, Kudirka’s big break came from an unlikely source. When a Lithuanian émigré discovered that Kudirka’s mother was born in Brooklyn before returning to her homeland with her family, it became immediately apparent that Simas had an entitlement to American citizenship by virtue of his mother’s birthright. American officials pressed the issue with the Soviets, who shortly thereafter released Kudirka from the gulag. In no time, Simas and his family were on their way to America and a new life.

Once in the US, Kudirka spent time in New York, New Jersey and California. His story was made into a TV movie, “The Defection of Simas Kudirka” (1978) with Alan Arkin, Richard Jordan and Donald Pleasance. And he lived a colorful and productive life, trying his hand at various vocations and relishing the benefits that freedom had afforded him. But, once widowed, he felt a void open up in his life, which he sought to fill, somewhat successfully, by returning to a now-free Lithuania, where he has since settled down into a comfortable and content retirement.

Through this remarkable odyssey, Kudirka has set an inspiring example for all of us in myriad ways – how to live courageously, how to seek fulfillment out of life, how to appreciate what we have and how to cherish the freedoms that many of us take for granted. It’s been quite a full life, one to which we should all aspire. And all it took was a leap of faith.

Having successfully earned his right to American citizenship, former Soviet seaman Simas Kudirka finds life in America vastly different from his days in the USSR, as seen in director Giedrė Žickytė’s new documentary, “The Jump” (“Suolis”). Photo courtesy of MetFilms.

What Kudirka did is something that more of us should probably do. After all, as it has often been said, when we come to the ends of our lives, we generally regret the opportunities we didn’t take more than those that we did that failed. That’s particularly true for the big decisions that come along, those that represent significant turning points in our lives. Given that they can greatly alter the course of our destinies, they should be considered carefully and, when needed, boldly, just as Simas did.

So how did the hopeful seaman come to this decision? It came about as a result of his beliefs, specifically those associated with his realization that he could do this. That’s important, given that our beliefs – whatever they may be – govern the unfolding of our reality. For his part, Kudirka courageously pursued this venture with this in mind despite the risks. He faced dire consequences if he were to fail. The leap in itself was not an easy feat, and, if he were to be refused his request, he would have to address the fallout from brutal, intolerant Soviet government authorities. Indeed, considering the stakes involved here, there was a lot riding on his actions and their underlying beliefs and whether he could realistically make them work in his favor. Yet, despite it all, he had faith in himself and his beliefs, with the hope that it would carry him through. This may not have been enough in and of itself, but it certainly gave Simas a solid starting point from which to work.

This undertaking required Simas to, first, assess his fears and the limitations he was up against and, then, decide whether he could successfully overcome them. He also had to consider what he was going to do if his plan failed, an outcome that came to pass, at least initially. Such a prospect raised an array of new challenges, such as his interrogation by the KGB, the Soviet security agency, and its often-ruthless investigators, such as Vytautas Urbanas, who’s steely resolve becomes quite apparent during one of the film’s interviews. The pressure on Kudirka at the outset of this saga was severe enough, but it became even greater after events began playing out.

This, of course, backed Simas into a corner, calling for inventive measures to turn his situation around. It forced him into becoming even more creative in his beliefs and what he hoped they would yield for him. That undoubtedly had to be difficult in light of the circumstances under which he was operating, namely, the deplorable conditions of the gulag, which are graphically depicted in the film. But, despite everything seemingly working against him, Kudirka managed to manifest the means to help to make his plans unfold as hoped for.

First, there was the zealous backing of his devoted supporters, including everyone from his émigré countrymen to high-profile politicians. Then there was the open acknowledgment that the handling of Kudirka’s situation was in error and in need of rectification. But, perhaps most importantly, there was the “lucky” break that the asylum seeker was legitimately justified in pursuing his goal. By availing himself of the synchronicities that came his way, Simas found a way and made the most of it.

To a great degree, Kudirka’s success in this matter rested with his sincere desire to attain it. Achieving freedom was something he earnestly wanted, a reflection of his true self and the core beliefs at its center. When we tap into this aspect of our being, we significantly increase the likelihood of fulfilling our goals, mainly because they arise from a genuine sense of truth, honesty and integrity.

After nearly 50 years, onetime would-be asylum seeker Simas Kudirka finds himself back on the deck of the US Coast Guard cutter Vigilant, where, in 1970, he leapt from an adjacent Soviet trawler in an attempt to defect, as seen in the new documentary, “The Jump” (“Suolis”), a frequent offering on current film festival schedules. Photo courtesy of MetFilms.

With these qualities driving the process, our chances of successful fulfillment are thus tremendously enhanced, even if they don’t necessarily seem that way at first. However, setbacks need not be a death sentence; they can often serve to strengthen our resolve, to galvanize our feelings, to bolster our commitment. And, when our adversaries are forced into confronting such circumstances, they had better beware of what they’re up against, as Kudirka so cunningly demonstrates in his inspiring story.

The taste of success in scenarios like this can be quite sweet, And, given what Simas gained as a result of his initiative, he developed a significant degree of appreciation and gratitude for his newfound fortunes. For those who have experienced the lack of abundance and personal flexibility that Kudirka endured, it should come as no surprise that such grateful outlooks would result. During his time in America, Simas tried to impress this view upon a society that had lost sight of this, encouraging the unappreciative among us to renew and embrace this outlook. That may call for some of us to take a leap of faith of our own, but it’s one that can leave us fulfilled and liberated – not unlike Simas himself.

Taking a leap of faith – literally and figuratively – is a truly inspiring act, especially when we believe that doing so will help us fulfill a cherished dream. The heartbreaking and heartwarming saga of this enlightened asylum seeker takes viewers on a rollercoaster ride as we witness his remarkable journey to freedom. Director Giedrė Žickytė’s in-depth documentary about this incredible odyssey tells a compelling tale that not only outlines the events of Kudirka’s courageous crusade, but also presents an up-close profile of a colorful and vibrant individual, one who shows us our lack of appreciation for things that we should be valuing, as well as how to stay vital well on into our senior years. It’s a combination of elements that generally works well, although the final segment loses some steam as the picture winds down to the final frame. Nonetheless, even though this is a story that has largely gone forgotten, it delivers a message that should never be.

At present, finding this film may take some effort. “The Jump” has primarily been playing the film festival circuit, which it will probably continue doing for the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, it’s a title worth searching for, especially since many of these screenings have been accompanied by insightful Q&A sessions with the director after the film. There’s more to this story than what appears on the screen, and these discussions bring that to light in intriguing and uplifting ways.

Anything worth having is truly worth fighting for. That’s particularly true for those precious freedoms that so many go without and that those who possess them often take for granted. Kudirka’s story shines a bright light on the foregoing, one whose value shouldn’t be underestimated. At a time when such liberties hang in the balance – even in places where they’re supposedly guaranteed – we must remain steadfast about their protection and preservation, especially when we consider the alternative – and what it might deprive us of.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Grappling with a Heartbreaking Choice


What lengths would you go to for the one you love? When adverse situations arise, we can be left with difficult choices, the kind that frequently leave us between a rock and a hard place. No matter how much we care for a loved one, circumstances may thrust us into a position where Herculean efforts – with no guarantee of success – are often foisted upon us. And, if we do nothing, the outcome can be tragic, leaving us devastated. So what are we to do? That’s the core question raised in the new Somalian domestic drama, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” (“Guled and Nasra”) (web site, trailer).

Djibouti gravedigger Guled (Omar Abdi) struggles to make ends meet to keep his family together. His meager earnings are barely enough to stay afloat, yet that doesn’t stop him from seeking out sources of additional income. In fact, during times of no work, he and his colleagues park themselves outside a hospital emergency room, hoping that arriving ambulances will provide them with new money-making opportunities – patients who are near death or have already passed on and in need of burial. As morbidly opportunistic as that may sound, though, it still doesn’t provide the financial resources he needs.

Happily married couple Guled (Omar Abdi, left) and Nasra (Yasmin Warsame, right) positively adore one another, but a cloud looms over their relationship, as seen in the new Somalian domestic drama, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” (“Guled and Nasra”). Photo by Lasse Lecklin, courtesy © BUFO.

In large part, that’s due to the fact that Guled is spending nearly every penny he earns on medication for his wife, Nasra (Yasmin Warsame), who’s suffering from chronic, debilitating kidney disease. Guled positively adores Nasra and is willing to go to almost any lengths for her, but, no matter how much he does, it never seems to be enough. It’s put quite a strain on the household, particularly in his relationship with his teenage son, Mahad (Kader Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim), who is growing progressively rebellious and increasingly hard to control. But, what’s worse, Nasra’s condition appears to be worsening, making matters even more difficult.

After visiting the hospital – this time not in search of work opportunities – Nasra’s attending physician (Fardouza Moussa Egueh) informs her and Guled that she requires life-saving surgery, a procedure that has good prospects for restoring her health but that is exorbitantly expensive. Guled doesn’t have nearly enough money for the operation, a prospect that essentially constitutes a death sentence for Nasra if he’s unable to raise the funds in time. But where will he get the cash he needs?

After assessing the situation, Guled realizes there’s only one option, and it’s far from easy. An income source is potentially available, but it will require him to return to the rural village where he grew up, a place he left many years earlier after a difficult and painful falling out with his family. Yet, given that this appears to be his only choice, he knows that he will need to make the long journey – on foot through the heat and rough terrain of the African wilderness – to his family homestead to collect what he believes he’s entitled to.

As the details of Guled’s past emerge, it also becomes apparent that there’s no guarantee that he’ll be able to collect on what he’s owed, especially when family members try to stonewall his attempts at staking his claim. Circumstances become even more complicated when his village’s tribal leaders become involved in the fray, implementing community proceedings to resolve the dispute between Guled and his relatives.

Given Guled’s depleted state after the long journey and his desperation to acquire the resources needed to save his wife’s life, it’s an ordeal that weighs heavily upon him. The anguish and frustration are unbearable, particularly in light of the intractable position assumed by his family, Nasra’s condition notwithstanding. He appears to be saddled with an impossible situation, one in which his own well-being is also now at stake. How will he be able to survive and save Nasra’s life? That’s what remains to be seen as this heartbreaking story unfolds.

Faced with a difficult decision, Djibouti gravedigger Guled (Omar Abdi, right) must find a way to pay for a life-saving operation for his dying wife, Nasra (Yasmin Warsame, left), in director Khadar Ahmed’s debut feature, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” (“Guled and Nasra”). Photo by Arttu Peltomaa, courtesy © BUFO.

It’s been said that, when there’s a will, there’s a way, even if its implementation and execution are difficult, if not seemingly impossible. The key to making it work rests with one’s ability to believe in the manifestation of the possibility, which is where the notion’s likelihood often comes under challenge. However, if one has faith in the idea and a commitment to make it happen, the chances of its materialization increase significantly.

These are the conditions that Guled faces when it comes to devising and enacting a solution to the dilemma he faces. His success will ultimately depend on his ability to tap into the foregoing principles, particularly those related to drawing on our thoughts, beliefs and intents in manifesting the existence we experience. Guled may not have heard of this school of thought, but that doesn’t mean he can’t exercise its fundamentals in coming up with a plan to save Nasra before it’s too late. The question is, how committed is he to making it work?

Guled has a powerful tool at his disposal in attempting to pull off such a scenario – his love for his wife. His profound feelings in this regard are rooted in beliefs directly associated with his commitment to her and the relationship they’ve built together. His love is so deep that he can barely imagine a life without her. And that kind of devotion is a formidable motivation for launching, carrying out and completing the plan, no matter how arduous it might seem.

To be sure, an undertaking like this would almost assuredly deplete anyone’s wherewithal and resources, and Guled is no exception. At some point, though, he must choose whether the effort he needs to expend is worth it. Considering his bond with Nasra, his decision should be obvious. Admittedly it’s a hard choice, but, for those we love as much as Guled loves Nasra, there’s really no other option.

As her chronic kidney disease worsens, Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) faces an uncertain future in director Khadar Ahmed’s debut feature, “The Gravedigger’s Wife” (“Guled and Nasra”). Photo by Arttu Peltomaa, courtesy © BUFO.

In taking on this venture, there are undoubtedly limitations and obstacles standing in Guled’s way. But, if he’s to achieve his goal, he must believe that they can be effectively overcome. That’s a tall order, to be sure, especially if fears and doubts enter the picture, for, at their core, they’re beliefs that can undermine whatever he attempts, potentially derailing his plans before they ever get off the ground. Consequently, he must set them aside and embrace beliefs related to attaining success and living courageously. That may also be a tall order, but employing those notions is indeed possible with the right mix of faith, commitment and determination, despite the odds.

Carrying out such manifestation efforts can be significantly enhanced with the right motivations. As previously mentioned, Guled’s love for Nasra is already in place, and that, in itself, is a force to be reckoned with. But there are other tools that can be employed, such as the power of compassion, which can infuse an undertaking like this with tremendous fortitude. Then there’s the impact of gratitude, the appreciation that Guled has for the presence of Nasra in his life, an influence that can significantly drive his determination, inspiration and enthusiasm. With all of that backing his efforts, he has an impressive and powerful belief toolkit at his disposal to realize his objective.

Tales like this are truly uplifting. In an age where it has become all too easy to throw in the towel, it’s heartening to witness stories where individuals are willing to place everything on the line to see their aspirations and ambitions fulfilled. Guled sets quite an example given what he undertakes in the name of love, and what greater glory could there be than that?

Writer-director Khadar Ahmed’s debut feature presents a simple but decidedly heartrending and heartbreaking tale, one that certainly tugs at the emotions as the couple’s story plays out, thanks in large part to the excellent performances of Abdi and Warsame, who have a tremendous chemistry on screen. To be sure, the film has its predictable moments and a few story threads that aren’t as fully developed as they could have been, but, overall, this is a fine showcase for a superb emerging talent, one who shows tremendous promise for future projects.

Troubled times at home create difficulty for rebellious teen Mahad (Kader Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim, foreground) as seen in “The Gravedigger’s Wife” (“Guled and Nasra”). Photo by Lasse Lecklin, courtesy © BUFO.

Unfortunately, finding “The Gravedigger’s Wife” may take some effort. It was highly touted as a strong contender at the start of the 2021 movie awards season, receiving considerable acclaim from critics and at film festivals, such as the Cannes Film Festival, where it earned nominations for the Golden Camera and Critics’ Week Grand Prize Awards. However, for whatever reason, those accolades did not translate into significant competition nominations, falling short of many expectations, despite its many laurels. The film has primarily been playing the festival circuit, which is probably the best place to find it, at least for the time being. The picture deserves a shot at general distribution, and here’s hoping that it gets that chance.

It’s been said that love conquers all, and I’m sure many of us would like to hope that’s true. That doesn’t mean, however, that it won’t get put to the test from time to time to verify its strength and resiliency. Such tests can be frustrating, but they can also help to bolster the bonds with our loved ones, taking that love to a deeper level. The choices involved in reaching that point may be difficult ones, but, in the end, we’ll likely find that the effort was worth it, something for which we can be eternally grateful.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

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