Daniel Nelson



Image by Lamb

“Someday you’re going to have sacrifice your lamb, lest you starve,” Abraham warns his nine-year-old son, Ephraim.

Ephraim doesn’t want to believe him. He and his lamb, Chuni, are inseparable, Ephraim holding on to the animal as lovingly as though she is the mother who recently died. But Abraham knows that with the rains failing and no woman in the house, father and son cannot continue as before. Life is about to turn on its axis.

They wistfully take leave of their village, Chuni in tow, to trek across the spectacular Ethiopian countryside.

At the end of the journey, Ephraim is left with distant family and dad heads for Addis Ababa, to scratch out a living there.

Life is hard in the country, too. The rains have also failed here. Ephraim finds that even dribbling a little water to wash his hands provokes a sharp warning about scarcity from Solomon, the male head of the new family.

He draws different responses from other members of the family: the presiding aunt who, when provoked, reaches for her whip;  Solomon’s wife, Azeb, shows some sympathy but is preoccupied with her sickly baby; and Tsion, a daughter from his previous marriage, who reads newspapers and wants to escape village life, even if it means taking off with a truck driver. In some ways, she is the most interesting character, because she is on the cusp of another world, having glimpsed the existence of knowledge and experience beyond the village. Solomon, who is struggling to look after his family and keep it together, is disparaging about Ephraim, who proves useless at ploughing but skilful at cooking – earning him the epithet “sissy”. Even more alarmingly, Solomon regards Ephraim’s lamb as a gift from God, to be eaten when the time is ripe – at the Feast of the Holy Cross. This is a double-cross, because Ephraim is Jewish.

The family has generously taken Ephraim in, as hospitality and family solidarity dictates, but that doesn’t mean there are no resulting resentments and arguments. Ephraim not only has to negotiate these subtly conveyed relationships but has to protect Chuni.

Much of the film is about his attempts to plot an escape, back to his own village or to Addis, but he is thwarted at every turn as he tries to raise the fare money.

All this is all beautifully observed by director Yared Zeleke. It’s not surprising that the film is pitch-perfect, for Zeleke has said, “There are parallels between Ephraim and myself. Strong women raised me in Ethiopia. I preferred to cook in the kitchen with my grandmother rather than play sports with the other boys in my neighbourhood. At the age of 10, the ongoing conflicts and chaos in my country caused me to lose my home and family.”

Lamb is analogous to my life’s journey in that it is deeply personal and inescapably political. It is a semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age drama that incorporates the heart, heartache, and humour of everyday life in my homeland.”

Lamb is his first full-length feature, and it’s delightful.


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