A Girl from Mogadishu

 

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A justified tribute that many will admire but which should perhaps have taken a different form.

 
Girl from Mogadishu, A

 

It's as fitting to have a film about Ifrah Ahmed as it was to make one about Greta Thunberg. But, whereas I Am Greta was a documentary, Mary McGuckian, the writer and director of A Girl from Mogadishu, has opted to use actors in a treatment that is described as being based on the testimony of Ifrah Ahmed. I am not certain to what extent that has allowed fictional elements to be introduced into this real-life tale, but there is no doubt that the film is fully expressive of all that Ifrah has come to stand for since fleeing war-torn Somalia in 2006.

 

Unlike Thunberg this girl had a highly dramatic life before taking up the cause with which she is now so strongly associated. The first part of McGuckian's film depicts how, after suffering gang rape at the hands of Somali militants, Ifrah turned to traffickers in a desperate bid to get away from her country. She had expected to be taken to America where she had an aunt in Minnesota but instead the man in charge (Barkhad Abdi, from Captain Phillips) deposits her in Dublin thus causing her to seek asylum there.

 

It was only at this point in her life that a medical inspection led to her becoming aware of how female genital mutilation (which she had undergone as being the normal thing in Somalia) was viewed so differently elsewhere. She would then become a central figure in campaigning for FGM to be outlawed in Ireland. By 2012 this had been accomplished but, like Thunberg, she went on to be seen as an international figure. She would speak out on the subject in Brussels before returning to Somalia to influence the situation in her own country despite receiving hate mail from those who could not accept her challenge to tradition.

 

Aja Naomi King is very much screen centre as Ifrah and she is good in a film that is unquestionably heartfelt. But, while I admire the woman and recognise the desirability of telling her story, I find myself dissatisfied with McGuckian's approach. Despite the film being a drama with actors, I would have liked a style that kept close to the realism of documentaries. Instead we get 'Scope images that frequently play with focus and with light in a distractingly artificial way, while Nitin Sawhney has been encouraged to swamp the film with music. Lots of quick editing adds to the sense of artifice while the persistent voice-over comments by the central character only serve to make one feel that a book might have been a more apt format. Ifrah's achievements in Ireland provide a climax that comes early and, since there is much still to be covered including the return to Somalia, a flashback structure would have helped to give a better shape to the film. A series of brief shots that look ahead at intervals to show Ifrah speaking in Brussels in 2013 don't help to do this but only increase the sense of structural weakness. Fine as King is and welcome as it is to see Barkhad Abdi again (albeit in a rather minor role), I did not feel that for all its good intentions A Girl from Mogadishu really rose to the occasion. Nevertheless, many viewers will feel that presenting the issue of FGM on film is so worthwhile that for them the style adopted matters little.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Aja Naomi King, Barkhad Abdi, Martha Canga Antonio, Maryam Mursal, Orla Brady, Pauline McLynn, Stanley Townsend, Luke Spencer Roberts, Niall Buggy, Ken Ndiaye, Petrina Ryan.

 

Dir Mary McGuckian, Pro Mary McGuckian and Adrian Politowski, Screenplay Mary McGuckian, Ph Michael Lavelle, Pro Des Emma Pucci, Ed Mary McGuckian, Sylvie Lander and Mairead McIvor, Music Nitin Sawhney, Costumes Nathalie Leborgne.

 

Pembridge Pictures/Umedia/Head Gear Films/Metrol Technology-Bohemia Media.
113 mins. Ireland/Belgium/Morocco. 2019. Rel: 4 December 2020. Available on VOD. Cert. 15.