The inception of Oliver Laxe’s second film, Mimosas, has been a strange one. It has been a long wait for UK audiences to even see the film in cinemas, arriving almost eighteen months after its Cannes premiere. Yet the film’s journey into the Atlas Mountains feels like a return to a familiar destination, rather than a voyage into the unknown.
This is largely because we have been there before, to those desolate mountain slopes and narrow, shingled pathways. We saw the same lonely caravans when Ben Rivers travelled with them to document the shoot of Mimosas, telling the strange story of The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015). In that film, the boundary between the real and the imagined is made indistinct, and figures traverse it freely (or unwittingly).
Oliver Laxe is one such to make the transition, drifting between the reality of his own shoot and the narrative of Rivers’ film, where he is eventually subsumed completely, lost to the fictive desert. Laxe’s role as a director/character has always been a fluid one, ever since his debut feature, You Are All Captains (2011), a docufiction in which he encourages a group of schoolchildren to make a film and, simultaneously, enlists them to contribute to his own.
The children in that film become disillusioned with Laxe and his fragmented, non-linear vision. Many who watched The Sky Trembles… may have felt similarly. The narratives he participates in require patience, and some willingness on the part of the viewer to reassemble their constituent parts into a comprehensible whole.
Mimosas is no different. A pre-production press kit describes a deeply allegorical story set in the Middle Ages in the lands of the Maghreb (North-West Africa), in which the leader of a religious brotherhood ensures its survival by making a pact with the Devil. As their caravan makes its way through the Atlas Mountains, the brotherhood is riven by fear and jealousy, resulting in the death of some of its principle members.
Many of the theological aspects have been stripped out of the film in its final form, or have been buried in layers of metaphor, at least. It now tells the story of a dying Sheikh who is travelling through the mountains to die in peace with his family. When he passes away on the journey, his followers try to fulfil his wishes and transport his body to its final resting place.
Like the director-character that wanders from the real world into a narrative world in The Sky Trembles…, the characters of this pre-modern pilgrimage also move between that age and a contemporary one, our own world, perhaps, where dilapidated taxis streak across the desert to some unknown destination.
It is from this modern age that Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar) sets out on an unknown mission, venturing into the Atlas Mountains in one of these taxis, where he reaches out to the caravaneers mourning the death of their Sheikh.
Shakib is an odd character, a fool and a messiah all at once, the former in others’ eyes, the latter in his own head. The actor, Shakib Ben Omar, also starred in You Are All Captains where, after the children emancipate themselves from Laxe’s direction, he marshals them in expressing their own artistic vision.
He plays a similar figure in Mimosas. His fellows in the caravan laugh when this strange, verbose young man enters their company, but he eventually ends up a leader, a symbol of strength. Despite the scepticism of his fellows, he has faith.
Laxe cites the films of Pier Paolo Pasolini as an influence, particularly Medea (1969). The ghost of the Italian director can be felt in almost every frame of Mimosas, from the desolate, rubble-strewn backdrop of the Atlas Mountains, evocative of the landscapes of Oedipus Rex (1967), to the closeups that are as expressive as any in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1967). This is not to say that Mimosas is derivative, but that Oliver Laxe, just like Pasolini, is drawn to the sublime tension between the spiritual and the physical.
Like You Are All Captains and The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, Mimosas is a film of fragments. It reads like an ancient gospel whose pages have been torn loose and strewn by the wind. There are flashes of divinity, glimpses of men working to understand their place, and the strides they take to traverse the gap between worlds. It takes the death of their Sheikh for the men of Mimosas, all apostates of differing degrees, to reflect on their own purpose. Like Pasolini himself said, ‘Death does determine life.’
Country: Spain, Morocco, France, Romania, Qatar Language: Arabic Year: 2016 Director: Oliver Laxe Writers: Oliver Laxe, Santiago Fillol Starring: Shakib Ben Omar, Ahmed Hammoud, Said Aagli Runtime: 96 minutes
The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015) – Ben Rivers’ enigmatic voyage into the Moroccan desert preceded Mimosas but told a fragment of the same story, blurring the line between the real and the imagined. It is an inquiry into the truth of cinema itself, and it asks its audience to piece together their own answers. Ben Rivers and Oliver Laxe are film-makers of shared sensibilities, and it shows in the films they each shot in the middle of those lonely mountains.