Predictable though it may be, Ghabe has a lot going for it. Castro wisely maintains a leisurely pace, which services the contemplative story (at least until its thriller-like conclusion). He explores the necessity of adapting/assimilating to foreign cultures, as well as the glaring disparity between the prejudice refugees experience and the luxurious lifestyle they’re thrust into. He examines the embedded prejudice of the older generations vs. the open-mindedness of the younger ones. “Why don’t you invite them over?” Moa asks about Monir and his family during a midsommar festival (no, not that Midsommar). “What if they are terrorists with bombs and blow us all up?” comes the response.
At its heart, Ghabe is a coming-of-age story, a blossoming romance between two disparate individuals who understand little about each other’s cultures and are attracted to each other for distinct reasons: she, the white savior, is stricken by his trauma and mystery, while he is entranced by the freedom she embodies. This was never going to end well.
“…cloak the film with an almost mythical ambiance, capturing sunlight radiating off leaves, the sky’s reflection in a pond’s silky surface…”
The flashback portions of the story – involving the explosion that haunts Monir – are heavy-handed and repetitive, bringing down a sensitively-told story. None of that even needed to be said. The portrayal of his quiet emancipation by itself would have been more than sufficient in implying the horrors he experienced – the actor’s expressions, his character’s bewildered reactions to peacefulness. Insinuation, after all, tends to work better than overt showcasing. The drama of Ghabe builds to just too much “muchness.”
Disregarding that, Castro and his cinematographer, Carl P. Rasmussen, cloak the film with an almost mythical ambiance, capturing sunlight radiating off leaves, the sky’s reflection in a pond’s silky surface, raindrops splattering against surfaces, a mist gradually settling in – to the point where you can almost smell the crispness of the air. It comes as no surprise that Rasmussen worked on productions like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, a clear visual and stylistic inspiration for Ghabe. Coupled with Ehsan Kalantarpour and Ida Sundqvist’s otherworldly score, Castro and his team intermittently achieve a transcendent effect.
“I’ll start living when we get a residence permit,” a character states. In a life spent in perpetual migration, constant waiting, and being haunted by a horrific past, even a glimmer of hope is welcome. We may know how Ghabe will end, but then we know that all of our lives will end, and isn’t that glimmer the reason we keep on going?
"…at its best when it’s at its quietest..."