Two Films by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun: Daratt (2006) and A Screaming Man (2010)

Recently, I reviewed the French-set Une saison en France (A Season in France, 2017) directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, but his earlier works were made in his native country of Chad, which he left in the early-1980s. As becomes clear in these films, his is a country torn apart by Civil War — more or less constant, but flaring up regularly, since the country’s independence in 1960 — and a result of colonial-era divisions between Arab Muslims in the north, and Christians in the south.


Daratt (aka Dry Season, 2006) [Chad/France/Belgium/Austria, certificate 12]

I think we all have a ‘type’, and when it comes to films, Daratt fits very well into mine. It was commissioned as part of a series of films commemorating Mozart’s 250th anniversary (along with works by Tsai Ming-liang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, not to mention Garin Nugroho’s great Opera Jawa), and so at a plot level it uses some of the simplicity and big themes common to great opera: in this case it’s a film about a young man (Atim, played by Ali Bacha Barkaï) taking revenge on the murderer of his father (killed during a prolonged civil war). However, the resulting film has a very still, very studied visual style, allowed by this operatic framework. Indeed, Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro), one of the main characters, has had his vocal cords severed, so speaks very sparely, through a machine he holds to his diaphragm, refocusing attention on the faces and the ways the bodies interact within the frame. The result is a beautiful film and something of an allegory about nations facing difficult post-civil war recovery periods. Despite its themes of incipient violence, it never feels angry or rushed, but rather is a calm and focused study of two men moving warily around one another.

Daratt film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Mahamat-Saleh Haroun محمد الصالح هارون; Cinematographer Abraham Haile Biru; Starring Ali Bacha Barkaï, Youssouf Djaoro; Length 95 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Tuesday 13 March 2018.


A man looks downcast

Un homme qui crie (A Screaming Man, 2010) [Chad/France/Belgium, certificate PG]

I have been enormously impressed by the Haroun films I’ve seen, and this may just be his finest work. It’s a relatively compact story and despite the title features no actual screaming, though you get the sense watching this ageing man, Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), tend to a swimming pool in a privatised hotel compound in N’Djamena that he is constantly at war with himself. There’s one scene where the camera dummies in on his face and, though he’s silent, the weight of the film’s title almost physically suggests the noise inside him. There’s a war in his country too, after all, and young men are fighting and dying while he and his son work at this rich hotel for tourists. Adam is under pressure to pass on money towards the war efforts, while at the same time the hotel is pushing him out of the job he’s held his whole life, which defines him as a person, for which he is known throughout the city, so he finds himself in a difficult place. But for all this grim emotion, the film itself never feels anything less than gentle and generous in its pacing and its attention towards its characters. It’s a really beautiful film that may ultimately be about a country tearing itself apart, but does so by focusing on just this one man.

A Screaming Man film posterCREDITS
Director/Writer Mahamat-Saleh Haroun محمد الصالح هارون; Cinematographer Laurent Brunet; Starring Youssouf Djaoro; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at home (DVD), London, Monday 4 March 2019.

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