“Right in the middle of the desert, Amine is running. Carrying his fortune, with the police on his heels, he chooses to bury his loot in a makeshift grave. When he is released from prison, the arid hill has become a place of worship, where pilgrims crowd in to venerate the person who is said to be buried there: the Unknown Saint. Now Amine has to settle in the village and to come to terms with the inhabitants, without losing sight of his main goal: to get his money back.” This is how young Moroccan director Alaa Eddine Aljem introduces his first feature film. It doesn’t sound like a tragedy, and indeed, it isn’t: The Unknown Saint brilliantly combines the tradition of burlesque with a social depiction whose contours are overtly minimalist. The setting is stripped back to the bare bones, there are only a few characters, the situations are unequivocal, the psychology is basic: the economy of means at work here is striking. As if the film was showing that, beyond the fable it so elegantly unfolds, the real treasure at the core of the story is none other than the grace of a cinema that is guided, first and foremost, by the necessities of conviction.
Born in Rabat, Morocco, Alaa Eddine Aliem studied cinema at ESAV Marrakech, and completed a Master’s degree in filmmaking, production and screenwriting at INSAS Brussels. Alaa worked for cinema and television as a screenwriter and assistant director, before he created with Francesca Duca Le Moindre Geste, a production company based in Casablanca. Alaa directed several fiction shorts, including Les Poissons du Désert (2015), winner of the Best Short Film Grand Prize, Critics’ Award and Best Scenario Award at the Moroccan National Film Festival, and selected in many international festivals. The Unknown Saint is his first feature the film, a French-Moroccan coproduction, shot in Morocco. The film was selected at the 58 International Critics’ Week in Cannes.