Scene from the movie Lamb, Ethiopia © Photo courtesy of www.indiewire.com
A young Ethiopian boy and his rust-colored lamb are the protagonists of Lamb, the beautifully crafted first feature from Yared Zeleke. This award winning Ethiopian film, Lamb (2015); 94 minutes; Amharic with English subtitles is a must see. It does an extraordinary job of telling a story that could only be set in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has a tendency to bring pictures of famine, conflict and strife to mind. Lamb shares unexpected images of picturesque villages, priests in bright colored robes, and craggy lush peaks. Lamb made its world premiere at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. It screened at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2015 Milano Film Festival, winning “Best Feature Film”. It was the Ethiopian entry for the Best Foreign Language film at the 88th Academy Awards, but wasn’t nominated. Variety added the then 37-year old writer-director, Zeleke, to its “10 Screenwriters to Watch” list.
The simple, heartwarming, semi-autobiographical movie focuses on the life of 9 year-old Ephraim (Rediat Amare). Life changes drastically for him and his father, Abraham (Indriss Mohamed) once his beloved mother passes away. Forced to move after a drought paralyzes their village, the father and son along with his mother’s sterile pet lamb, Chuni, travel south where their relatives live on farmland surrounded by rolling green hills. The family consists of a loving but all-business great aunt who keeps a whip by her side for occasional discipline, a stern uncle, an aunt concerned with her sick daughter, and another daughter who is past marrying age but seems more interested in reading newspapers than getting married and having children.
While Ephraim settles in to his new life, his father goes to Addis to look for work. We watch the family as they farm and celebrate a lifestyle far removed from the one lived in the West. The family is just getting by and it is decided that Ephraim’s beloved sheep will be slaughtered for a holiday, setting up something of a ticking clock. Ephraim shares a special bond with Chuni. He prefers to stay home with the women tending to Chuni and cooking, his passion in life. His uncle strongly opposes this and wants to make a man out of him and put him in the fields. Of course Ephraim is distraught when he learns of his uncle’s plans for Chuni and makes a plan to escape earning money.
Scene from the movie Lamb, Ethiopia © Photo courtesy of ARThound, Geneva Anderson https://genevaanderson.wordpress.com/
Zeleke provides a poignant depiction of how a child copes with grief in a country most know little about. He shows life in rural Ethiopia underlining the overwhelming role of women in a purely patriarchal society, from grandmother Emama’s uncontestable authority all the way through to Solomon’s daughter, Tsoni (Kidist Siyum), who reads too much for her father’s taste, rebels against her mother and finally, bonding with Ephraim, makes the decision to break away from them all.
We would be remiss not to mention French-Canadian cinematographer Josee Deshaies. Josee does an outstanding job capturing the beautiful green landscapes occasionally veiled in mist and in closer detail the colorful finely woven scarves worn by women, Chuni’s thick wool and the mud and wood used for rural dwellings in Ethiopia.
Our advice: Don’t miss this gem!
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Lamb was selected at International Film Festivals including:
Cannes Film Festival 2015
Toronto International Film Festival 2015
Milano Film Festival, won “Best Feature Film” 2015
Palm Springs Film Festival 2015
Ethiopian entry for the 88th Academy Awards; not nominated 2016