LFF 2019: The Unknown Saint – Review

Release Date – N/A, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Alaa Eddine Aljem

A thief (Younes Bouab) returns from jail to the hill on which he buried stolen money to discover that a monument has been placed on it for an unknown saint.

The initial premise of Alaa Eddine Aljem’s feature writing and directorial debut might seem relatively simple. A thief (Younes Bouab) returns from jail to the hill where he buried his stolen money from years ago to discover that a large shrine has been built to an unknown saint. Soon, the unnamed thief, assisted by an accomplice (Salah Ben Saleh), attempts to take back his loot during a night raid. It’s not long until he discovers a guard (Abdelghani Kitab) and dog sit directly outside the building at night, leading to the half incapable pair having to return to their hotel and plan their next moves.

However, there’s much more going on in The Unknown Saint than just this. The new doctor (Anas El Baz) in the dusty desert village where the majority of the film is set finds himself living the same routine everyday, giving the same tablets to people with conditions such as only coughing when they’re awake. Add onto that a guard that’s endlessly devoted to his dog; more so than he is to his family, and the barber and dentist in the village being the same person (Ahmed Yarziz). It’s safe to say that life in the village is extremely repetitious, and it’s this repetition that creates much of the comedy. The monotony of the bizarre routines compared with the desperation and almost anarchic desperation of the thief and his accomplice (known as ‘the brain’). And with all these characters popping in and out over the course of the narrative it’s possible for some to be easily forgotten about or referenced less than others. However, for much of the run-time there seems to be a fair balance between the amount of time that each character spends on-screen – at times bringing about a feeling of recurring sketches being pieced together to create some form of narrative.

Throughout the film the humour seems to have been almost heavily inspired by that found in cartoons. The use of repetition, long, awkward pauses and a number of visual gags help create a similar feeling to watching an animated short. Yes, most of the gags are relatively simple, especially having been seen before, but when paired up with the fairly relaxed feel that ‘s brought about by Aljem’s direction there are a handful of chuckles and mild exhales of amusement scattered throughout. As a whole the film is rather simple and basic, however this almost helps to emphasise the aesthetic and feel of the slow moving days within the village. And while the ending can clearly be seen coming from well before the half-way point the cartoon nature still helps to bring in a couple of laughs, even if some of them are as predictable as the plot.

In many ways a handful of the various flaws of the film are excused by the semi-understood cartoonish sense that it holds. And while the overall repetition can sometimes loose steam and create a slightly dragged out feel to some scenes overall there’s enough to be mildly amused by within The Unknown Saint to keep it just about engaging and enjoyable enough to help do that little bit more than just pass the time.

Finding the monotony of the cartoon-like bizarre, and within that humour The Unknown Saint might have a fair deal of predictability, but overall it’s a, if slightly lacking in detail, balanced and amusing enough watch.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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