A thief on the run hides his stash on a hillock with a distinctive tree minutes before being nabbed. Upon his release from prison, the thief returns to the spot to find that it has become a mausoleum dedicated to an “unknown saint”.

A minor economy has sprung up around the shrine, which delays the thief’s repeated attempts to retrieve the booty. As he impatiently waits, director Alla Edine-Aljem rolls out a series of sub-plots and character sketches.

An elderly farmer in a neighbouring drought-struck village is refusing to relocate despite his son’s pleadings. The village where the mausoleum is located has a barber who doubles up as a dentist, an enthusiastic security guard who dotes on his German shepherd, and a movie star-handsome new doctor who becomes the latest pastime of the local elderly women.

The Moroccan comedy, which was premiered at Cannes Film Festival in 2019, is out on Netflix. At times recalling Palestinian director Elia Suleiman’s films in its use of laconic characters, droll humour and frontal camerawork, The Unknown Saint is an entertaining and whimsical look at worldly desires and miracles wrought by humans.

The barebones nature of the plot complements the stark locations, which are beautifully lensed by Amine Berrada. The series of vignettes is at its strongest when it comes to the doctor (like the thief and his accomplice, this village heartthrob goes unnamed.) Aided by his eccentric male nurse, the doctor learns to make the best of his absurd situation.

Anas El Baz, as the doctor, is among the actors who get the laughs through deft underplaying. He is ably backed by Hassan Ben Bdida, the nurse who has been around for far too long and has a time-tested solution for the unending lassitude. Younes Bouab, as the grim thief, and Salah Ben Saleh, as his over-zealous partner in crime, are among the standouts in the cast.

The Unknown Saint (2019).