This rhapsodic and visually intoxicating film explores the world of khat, the hallucinogen that has become Ethiopia’s most lucrative cash crop.
When chewed, khat leaves act as a stimulant. In some parts of Sufism, it is used to reach levels of transcendence. For others, the mellow vibe it produces allow days to pass in a pleasant haze. But like any profit-producing product, the business around it can be ruthless. Unfolding in the city of Harar, seen as the home of the leaf and the industry that has grown out of it, Jessica Beshir’s documentary, shot in black and white, creates a mood that echoes the sensation of consuming khat, imbuing images with a haze that never undermines the film’s focus, but adds immeasurably to its atmosphere.
One of the key figures is Mohammad, a 14-year-pld boy whose father, like many of the older generation in the city, has succumbed to excessive use of the leaf, slipping into an addiction. Although the boy earns money by carrying out jobs for the local khat traders he, like many of his age, longs to escape the vice that has gripped their parents. This may not be the world of Narcos and illicit drug trafficking, but for Mohammad and those like him, a more hopeful future lies elsewhere.