Review: Sweetness in the Belly

Dakota Fanning and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly tells about an English child left at age 7 in the care of a Sufi master in Morocco. When her parents didn’t make it back, she was raised by The Great Abdal (Estad Tewfik Yusuf Mohamed). He educated her in several languages, taught her the Koran, and brought her up as Muslim.

In Sweetness in the Belly, we meet the adult English woman, Lily Abdal, played by Dakota Fanning, as a refugee from the civil war in Ethiopia. Bits of her childhood, her young adulthood in Ethiopia, and what led up to her fleeing Ethiopia was told in flashbacks.

In Ethiopia, Lily fell in love with a doctor named Aziz (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). After she reached England, she spent her time trying to find out if he was safe and alive. She was most comfortable around Ethiopians and was a devout Muslim.

Because of her white skin, Lily was given a council flat almost immediately, ahead of about 98% of the other refugees. She befriended Amina (Wunmi Mosaku) and invited her and her children to share the flat with her. Amina was searching for her husband who was left behind.

It’s the white woman’s story in this film, but Wunmi Mosaku give such a brilliant performance. Don’t overlook her contribution to making this a powerful movie.

Dakota Fanning and Wunmi Mosaku in Sweetness in the Belly

All the refugees were searching for loved ones they’d been separated from. Amina and Lily began collecting and cataloging names and information. They reunited everyone they could find.

Lily found a menial job in a hospital in England. She met another doctor, Robin (Kunal Nayyar), who was drawn to her. She was dismissive of him and took a long time to accept his friendship.

This different kind of refugee story was directed by Zeresenay Mehari based on a novel by Camilla Gibb. Zeresenay Mehari directed the excellent Difret, also set in Ethiopia.

The film was mostly slow moving and character driven. The love story between Lily and Aziz was told gently. In England, life was about the loneliness and pain of displaced people and how they coped with their situations. The refugees, mostly women and children, lived close together in shared support and even joy.

The film is on Prime Video.

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