Critic Walter Chaw recently wrote that Personal Shopper has “no narrative to assemble” because “the puzzle is that we think there’s a puzzle.” Chaw is remarking on Olivier Assayas’s nod toward but ultimate rebuke of thriller conventions that necessitate plot twists or last-minute reveals to shock viewers into submission. In the case of Mimosas, there’s a puzzle to assemble, but director Oliver Laxe leaves its ends loose, devoting his attention to shapes, figures, and movement within a mountainous Moroccan landscape—a sprawling terrain that contains greater intrigue than any turn of the narrative screw could achieve. These two films may take alternative routes toward dismantling genre expectations, but they both reach unsettling conclusions.
Bits of plot detail are strewn throughout the film’s first half hour—like precious drops of water in the harsh, hot desert. A man referred to only as the sheikh (Hamid Fardjad) has died, leaving it to a handful of nomads to transport his body on foot to Sijilmasa, a former trade entrepôt near the edge of the Sahara. Among those tasked with burying the sheikh are Ahmed (Ahmed Hammoud) and Saïd (Saïd Aagli), who confess their apprehension about the expedition, particularly the decision to to travel through mountains in order to reach the city. In collaboration with cinematographer Mauro Herce, Laxe frames the widescreen images with a portentous eye for spatial depth even as the men remain constantly in the foreground, creating the sense that something, whether literal or figurative, awaits their arrival.
Near an automobile junkyard miles away from the quest, Shakib (Shakib Ben Omar) tells a story to skeptical listeners about the Earth and its creation, saying that the Devil plays with its occupants as he pleases. Whether or not this has direct relevance to the trek through the mountains is unclear, so that what initially appears to be a grave pilgrimage of ceremonial rite is quickly put on pause for the ramblings of a disheveled soothsayer whose proclamations could easily be those of a madman. Mimosas confounds its surface narrative with intimations of more layered meanings to come through a jockeying of story threads, which culminates with Shakib being transported by car by a mysterious onlooker to oversee the nomads in their efforts.
From there, Mimosas divests any conventional drive toward plot-oriented resolution and embarks on an episodic structure, demarcated by three chapter titles, that places Ahmed, Saïd, and Shakib into close quarters with one another as they traverse the unaccommodating Moroccan terrain. Time feels elusive as night seems to fall without warning, making their possession of the sheikh’s body a constant source of anxiety.
As their efforts become a Sisyphean sojourn of uncertain significance, there’s a mounting sense that Laxe is indebted to Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us through his play with deceptive surfaces and motivational concealment. One may question to what extent the plot is an allegorical framework for examining the nature of filmmaking itself. Yet Mimosas, unlike Taste of Cherry, never makes these possibilities so explicit. Instead, following one of the men’s death, the other two wind up in a sort of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid scenario, charging toward their would-be captors with little more than a yell and a drawn sword.
The weight of cultural myth hangs over Mimosas without mercy, especially as the possibility of any clear-cut narrative meaning slowly leaks from the film’s beautifully composed frames. Yet there are concrete clues in the form of intertextual play with film history. Early on, as Saïd and Ahmed march along the mountainside, Saïd questions the intent of their journey, to which Ahmed explains there must be a reason for the chosen path. The exchange recalls a famous line from The Rules of the Game, in which Jean Renoir’s character says that the awful thing about life is that “everyone has his reasons.” That film, about the collapsing avalanche of bourgeois lifestyles, contains a hunt at its center—both for meaning and for rabbits. Mimosas sharply suggests that pursuit as reconfigured for a new landscape, with its core problem of male hubris and the burden of making sense of history still firmly intact.