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REVIEW: Anbessa

This review was provided by Vanessa Matsubara from our Open Call for Film Critics & Writers! Buy your Festival pass or individual tickets to watch both these films on GIFF Online. Please check out Vanessa’s other review of Kuessipan here!


dir. Mo Scarpelli
2018 | Italy / Ethiopia / United States | 86 min.

Review by Vanessa Matsubara

Anbessa is an understated story about a young lion attempting to fight back against the dominant hyenas who are trying to force them off their territory. This is the core narrative; what is shown instead is a child at the mercy of greedy companies that want to take the land he lives on.

Ten-year-old Asalif and his mother were relocated to a makeshift hut on the outskirts of the Ethiopian city of Addis Ababa when buildings emerged on their former land. The two carry on with their lives as best they can while mourning their old home, expressing sentiments such as “The land where I was born, it’s all condominiums now.”

Sporting his signature blue hoodie, Asalif, appears vibrant against the dull yellows and browns of the buildings where he busies himself by fixing up lights and little toys from parts he scrounges from the trash of wealthier families. His spirit shines through his dim conditions, even as he is acutely aware of the other tenants’ disdain for him. Often chased away from his neighbourhood, he finds refuge among local farmers chatting in a snack shop, the closest thing he has to father figures.

At night, Asalif can hear the cackling howls of hyenas, inching closer and closer to his vulnerable home. He asks aloud a question the audience is thinking, “Would the hyena eat a kid like me?” The only animal that can beat the predator is a lion. Asalif is sick of feeling inferior to wealthy businessmen kicking him off his own land so they can become even richer and as his resentment grows, so does the need to protect his family.

Near the end of the documentary, Asalif begins a story with, “Once upon a time there was a boy and unfortunately he turned into a lion.” Encapsulating the somber reality of children who are forced to grow up too young.

Wise lines are also often spoken by Asalif’s mother, a woman who has been through the most and been given the least. Her astuteness delivered a sentiment that is universally true and is the premise to many stories: “Hyenas aren’t the evil ones. These days it’s the humans you should fear.”