Dir. Yared Zeleke
Starring: Rediat Amare, Kidist Siyum, Welela Assefa, Surafel Teka, Indris Mohamed
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"For as a lamb is brought to slaughter, soThough the main character of Yared Zeleke's extraordinary first feature Lamb is hardly a direct derivation of the popular "persecuted princess" genre of the 13th and 14th centuries, he bears a number of unique similarities to "Custance" the central figure of the aforementioned Chaucer piece from the immortal "Canterbury Tales".
She stands, this innocent, before the king."
- Geoffery Chaucer, Man of Law's Tale, 1386
Ephraïm (Rediat Amare) is nine-years-old and his former charmed life of early childhood has been sadly decimated by the droughts and poverty of contemporary Ethiopia. His beloved mother dies of illness related to malnutrition and his father must take his boy to a more stable home environment many miles away whilst Dad then travels to the city of Addis Ababa to seek employment.
Ephraïm's only balm for his sadness is the deep love and friendship he maintains for Chuni, a sweet lamb that his beloved late Mother also cherished. Things don't look too positive here, though, since Dad drops the huge bomb that Ephraïm will soon need to cross over into manhood by slaughtering the lamb with his own hands.
This sentiment of manly tradition is reinforced by the patriarch of the foster family he's been left with. Uncle Solomon (Surafel Teka) makes it very clear that the lamb must die for an upcoming feast, but more importantly, to assist with the malnutrition of the family's sickly infant daughter.
Though Lamb hardly apes the Chaucer story in terms of its main character maintaining her constant faith to Christianity in spite of being assailed by "heathen" influence, Zaleke's film still oddly parallels the "Canterbury Tale" as Ephraïm maintains a constant faith in his wealth of spirit, his love for Chuni and most importantly, his natural gifts which fly in the face of the patriarchal traditions of rural Ethiopia. Happily, he finds an ally in his cousin Tsion (Kidist Siyum), the eldest daughter of his foster family who flouts convention with her intelligence, literacy and refusal to be married off.
Tears, however, will be shed.
Life moves in mysterious ways and a big part of Ephraïm's coming age will, in spite of all his best efforts to maintain the status quo of childhood, lead to a point wherein he must accept that love means learning to move on, to let go, to maintain his own spirit of compassion, but to allow himself to be unencumbered by things which will hold back his natural abilities to excel beyond the meagre demands of rural society.
Curiously, in addition to the film's parallels to classic literature, it also shares a place with many of cinema's greatest works involving animals and how they relate to a child's coming of age. Lamb conjures fond memories of Clarence Brown's The Yearling (from the book by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings), Lewis Milestone's The Red Pony (from John Steinbeck's glorious novella) and yes, even the genuinely beautiful Walt Disney heartbreaker Old Yeller directed by Robert (the Orson Welles/Joan Fontaine "Jane Eyre" and "Mary Poppins") Stevenson (from Fred Gipson's Newberry-Award-winning book).
Sensitively directed, intelligently written, beautifully acted and stunningly photographed, Lamb is an extraordinary, moving and beautiful experience for young and old alike.
THE FILM CORNER RATING: **** 4-Stars
Lamb enjoys its North American premiere in the TIFF 2015 Contemporary World Cinema Program. For further information visit the TIFF website HERE.