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Faya Dayi (2021)

Faya Dayi (2021)

A mesmerising poem of a film that mirrors the dreamlike effects of the drug it revolves around

The Very Best

8.8

Movie

Ethiopia, Qatar
Amharic, Oromo
Documentary
2021
FEMALE DIRECTOR, JESSICA BESHIR
Biniam Yonas, Destu Ibrahim Mumade, Hashim Abdi
120 min

TLDR

So hypnotic you might not be okay to drive afterwards.

What it's about

A heady immersion into the production and consumption of khat (a psychoactive plant popular in Ethiopia) and the lives of the people who chew its leaves to escape reality.

The take

Though it’s without a plot, Faya Dayi nonetheless weaves a stunning, expansive narrative about khat and the people who farm it and chew its leaves for their hallucinogenic effect. The documentary seems to take place in the same hazy dreamlike stupor that khat-chewers chase: shot in luminous black and white, the film is set to a reflective rhythm that floats from folklore to contemporary stories of romantic heartbreak, migration, and oppression.

Largely featuring members of Ethiopia's Oromo community — a marginalized ethnic group — including the farmers and workers involved in khat production, Faya Dayi is a portrait of economic hardship, emotional pain, and transcendent escape that hits straight in the chest for all the rawness and yearning it depicts. (As disembodied voice-overs put it, “people chew to get away” to the khat-induced “empty and lonely hideout where no one can ever visit you, your own dark and lonely world.”) Full of textures and images that evoke all of the senses, this is virtually a 5D movie, a hypnotic out-of-body experience that floats an astonishing expanse of ideas into your head — no talky explanations needed.

What stands out

It’s an understatement to call Faya Dayi’s high-contrast cinematography striking; it’s straight-up breath-taking. Cinematographer-director Jessica Beshir (whose feature debut this is) turns the simplest things — smoke curling in the air, shirts flapping in the wind, hands busily stripping leaves from branches — into mesmerizing images that linger in the mind indelibly. As with the film’s dreamlike editing and sound, the cinematography here is a masterclass in capturing an impossible wealth of hypnotic beauty and feeling from everyday life.

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