So what if the goats die (2020), by Sofia Alaoui

Film still from “So What it the Goats Die” by Sofia Alaoui

The winner of the Grand Jury Prix at this year’s edition of Sundance, as well as a recent participant in the National Competition at Clermont-Ferrand, So What if the Goats Die is an intriguing blend of treatise on the nature of belief and twist on traditional genre tropes

Abdellah (Fouad Oughaou, who gives a subtle and restrained performance) is a shepherd in a remote mountain who, after snow causes problems, must make his way to the nearest village for food to save his goats. But on arrival he finds his destination seemingly bereft of any humans. At first bewildered, Abdellah begins to discover that the population have fled due to mysterious appearances in the sky. As he wanders the (mostly) empty village, Abdellah find himself faced with a crisis of faith when faced with things that go beyond his understanding.

Director Sofia Aloui delivers a piece of work that is gently playful as it filters a narrative that would be the staple of any Hollywood blockbuster through the point of a view of a protagonist who is one step removed from everything that is happening around him. She delivers many of the devices that are traditional for the genre  – there are genuinely eerie shots of Abdellah walking around a deserted town or later moments with mysterious lights filling the desert sky – but strips them of the import usually reserved for a mainstream US film. Abdellah isn’t concerned with finding out what happens so he can save the world. He just wants to get some grain to feed his goats.

Certainly, the film is very much about the power and limitations of faith.  Abdellah puts his faith in Allah and the comforting tenets of his religion. He prays when coming across an empty house, and thinks a woman and her newborn that he meets should be ashamed for running away. Religion is a source of comfort, of reliability. But it’s also something that limits agency and critical thinking, the phenomenon going on around him reduced from Earth shattering revelations to a product of ‘heathen thinking’. In playing with these gaps both narratively and aesthetically (the film itself occupying a space that drifts between the intimate and the grandiose) So What if the Goats Die is a fascinating piece of work that should continue to do the rounds on the festival circuit over the months to come.

Original title: So What if the Goats Die
Country:  France, Morocco
Language: Berber
Runtime: 23′ 28”
Written/ Directed by: Sofia Alaoui
Produced by: Margaux Lorier
Cinematography by: Noé Bach
Editing by: Héloïse Pelloquet
Music: Amine Bouhafa
Assistant Director: Tam Slimani
Cast: Fouad Oughaou, Moha Oughaou, Oumaïma Oughaou, Saïd Ouabi