Monday, February 17, 2014

Film Atlas (Chad): A Screaming Man

Country: Chad
Title: A Screaming Man / Un Homme Qui Crie (2010)
An African pool, Adam, works as an attendant at an upscale Western hotel in N’Djamena. Though his job is relatively simple, he does it well and with pride, as he has done for decades. It entitles him to respect, a crisp white uniform and access to a vehicle. His coworkers, like the cook and security guard, call him “Champion” in deference to his former glory as a professional swimmer. Business, however, is slumping. The Chadian Civil War is in full swing and rebel forces are approaching the city. Tourism is drying up; the white guests leaving for safer regions. The hotel is sold to Chinese managers who immediately begin consolidating. The final blow comes when Adam is demoted and his handsome headstrong son, Abdel, given his job. Meanwhile, the district chief makes it clear to Adam that he must contribute to the war effort, either by paying a war levy or enlisting his son. Filled with bitterness, shame and anger, Adam puts his son on the draft list, a decision he immediately regrets, and the youth is soon after dragged off to fight. When Abdel’s pregnant girlfriend arrives, seeking shelter and support, Adam resolves to rescue his son.

Despite the wartime setting, this is less a war film than a morality play. Adam and Abdel are essentially apolitical; their interests and aspirations middle-class. It is the generational conflict that director Mahamat Saleh Haroun is really curious about, and he develops this theme with patience and sensitivity. Youssouf Djaoro, as Adam, delivers a quietly restrained, but inwardly screaming performance that captures the stress and strain that precipitates a tough decision and the guilt and anguish that follows a bad one. We watch battles play out behind Adam’s façade of courteous servility. His dignity, even his very identity, is destabilized even as his country, too, falls into chaos. The visuals tie Adam to water, showing him cool and calm when he is tending to the pool and letting him flounder in the dust and sun when he moves physically or symbolically away. Yet it is only when he finally severs his connection to the pool, with its foreign and artificial associations, that he is able to think clearly and, though it may come too late, to finds a measure of peace at a riverside, a body of water that is natural and indigenous. Haroun imbues this simple arc, from a pool to a river, with an enduring emotional impact.

Also check out Haroun's Dry Season, which also tackles father-son relations with similarly unexpected and powerful results.

My Favorites:
Dry Season
A Screaming Man

Major Directors:
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

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