A Girl from Mogadishu – Film Review
by Hugh Maguire
Director: Mary McGuckian
Writer: Mary McGuckian
Stars: Aja Naomi King, Barkhad Abdi, Martha Canga Antonio
Telling the compelling story of Somali-born Irish citizen, Ifrah Ahmed, A Girl from Mogadishu highlights the power of spirit and tenacity in overcoming the worst of circumstances. It is part of a sequence of high-end Irish perspectives on suffering elsewhere. And one day there will be a PhD thesis, if not one already, on our take on African conflicts in particular. Richard Mosse’s The Enclave at the Venice Biennale (2013) addressed the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo; Edna O’ Brien’s Girl (2019) has recently considered the nightmare of girls abducted, raped and tortured by Boko Haram and now comes an evocation of the chaos of Civil War in Somalia compounded by the abuse inflicted by a cultural tradition practising female genital mutilation. Ifrah arrived in Ireland as recently as 2006 and through sheer force of personality and tenacity has achieved much to raise awareness of issues in her native country, and for women internationally. The film charts her escape from a land of conflict to an Ireland she had never heard of, expecting in her escape to arrive in the United States, but arriving instead without belongings or language in the winter snows of Dublin. Quick to learn, and availing of what support is available she is transformed into a forceful figure on the cultural-political stage, addressing politicians nationally and internationally, as well as in her native Somalia. Her story is inspirational and on that basis alone the film deserves to be widely viewed.
It is almost a two-part film – Mogadishu and Dublin. The worst of the horror is presented in a manner recalling Mosse’s intentionally tinted visions. Lighting and camerawork, with slow-motion images of colourful veils blowing in the breeze, in some way ameliorate the sheer panic facing the protagonists at the outset. Rape, carnage, abuse of all sorts are almost presented as abstract images against glowing African sunsets. Can one talk of beautiful horror? The crisper light of our more northern climes almost jars with the initial narrative. Business-like refugee centres, hospital lighting and white-coated medics lend a matter of fact crispness to proceedings. Similarly, a cast of well-known faces stand in contrast to the actors in Somalia playing family members and who in saying little actually bring some other quality to the narrative. There is no doubting the accuracy of events but there are elements which are maybe too self-congratulatory. Aren’t we all great, very tolerant and welcoming? And look at all we are doing for the world. Expense has not been spared in recreating historical events and careful editing locates scenes of the brief Obama visit to Dublin as a focus for inspiration on Ifrah’s journey. More might have been made of her personal transition from young woman almost mute with fear to shining light on the international stage. But nonetheless, the overall message is potent and deserves to be known.