“In 2015, more than 160,000 asylum seekers arrived in Sweden,” announces the title card of Markus Castro’s Ghabe, a drama that’s as powerful as it is overbearing. Translated from Arabic, “ghabe” means “forest,” and one of the things Castro does splendidly is pay tribute to the nature that surrounds us, the escape and tranquility it provides, its enormity and majesty. The filmmaker juxtaposes said beauty against a Syrian refugee family’s tumultuous plight, whom the Swedish Migration Board could not accommodate. If he just dialed back a little on the histrionics, Castro would’ve had a true jawahra (Arabic for “gem”) on his hands. Ghabe is at its best when it’s at its quietest.
“It’s not my home,” the rebellious Monir (Adel Darwish) states about the stunning little cabin that a Swedish “bohemian” has kindly provided for him and his family to stay over the summer. Surrounded by a lush emerald forest, Monir is initially intimidated by all the solitude and tranquility. “It’s so quiet I can hear my own thoughts,” he says. During dinner, he rebels, unable to find peace within himself, haunted by memories of an explosion that forever changed his life.
“…a blossoming romance between two disparate individuals who understand little about each other’s cultures…”
Monir’s closest ally is his cousin Farid (Ahmad Fadel), but all they seem to do is get into arguments, as Farid is unable to control Monir’s wild tendencies. Those include wandering off into the woods – which Monir quickly accepts and grows to love – where the young man touches moss on trees, listens to the leaves’ serenade, and sleeps on a boat in the middle of a viscous pond. He disappears for days at a time, driving his family, Farid especially, crazy.
When a group of racist residents harasses Monir’s family, he assaults one of them, which leads to potential complications in receiving his residential permit. Our hero’s mind is elsewhere, though: the lovely Moa (Nathalie Williamsdotter), whom he spotted skinny-dipping one sunny afternoon, and who consequently caught him masturbating behind a tree. Luckily, Moa is charmed instead of being appalled – the two form a bond that morphs into a (doomed) romance. He reveals his deepest inhibitions to her, sparks fly, tears flow, and, well, I’ll let you guess whether it all ends merrily or tragically.
"…at its best when it’s at its quietest..."