Thursday, 19 May 2011

A Screaming Man

This is a good film on a number of levels:
  • The story is credible - the narrative draws you in.
  • The characters are played with warmth and a sense of realism.
  • The context in which the story is set is all too common.
  • The lessons the film invites viewers to learn are worthwhile.
  • It is a joint French/Belgian/Chad production.
This is a story about a male problem - pride. Or, at least as I see things the way in which pride manifests itself in men. In that way the central character Adam (Youssouf Djaoro) is an archetype - heard that before somewhere! In his youth he reprtesented his country as a swimmer and won, consequently everyone calls him 'Champ'. Now in his 50's, his job is pool supervisor at a hotel - a post he appears to have held for 30 years purely on the merit of once having been champ. He supervises his twenty year old son Abdel (Dioucounda Koma ) who teaches the wealthy guests to swim.

The hotel is taken over by new foreign owners and is run through the ruthless effeciency of Mme Wang (Heling Li). The review of staffing results in Adam's best friend the cook who has worked there for 30 years being made redundant. Soon after Adam is redeployed to gate-keeper and the ignominy of having to wear a uniform and be at the beck and call of all the drivers is clearly somehting he finds degrading.

The country is engaged in civil war and as the rebels move nearer the city pressure is put on families by the local Chief (Emile Abossolo M'bo ) to make cash contributions to support the war. Adam has also taken a pay cut and is unable to contribute. His feeling of helplessness is made worse when the Chief proudly tells Adam that he gave his 17 year old son to the army with a clear implication that Adam should do likewise. Under increasing pressure he too gives his son up to the army. The fighting intensifies.

As Adam slides into a sea of despair, his son's previously unknown pregnant girlfriend turns up. As the rebels approach the city the population flee and Adam's world is turned upside down when he spots the Chief masquerading as a woman shepherding two younger children along with the throng. Adam challenges him but a gun is pulled.

This brings Adam to his senses and he tries to make amends for his actions. He realises that life has passed him by as he rested on the laurels of his teenage success. He realises that in reality his life is worth nothing. The leader he looked up to has betrayed him. The only son he has and whom he loves has been given over to the war. His job has vanished, his best friend the cook lies ill in hospital. Adam's wife (Hadje Fatime N'Goua ) and would-be daughter in law (Djénéba Koné ) are depicted as dutiful victims of a male world.

This is a potent story about how pride can blind. It graphically shows how life's opportunities need to be siezed and that everything simply can't go on forever unchanged. The advancing rebels and the civil war are a dynamic metaphor for the struggle Adam is facing and the battles he has to fight. The muted colours of sub-Saharan Africa and the relentlessness of the sand reinforce the narrative as it unfolds.

I saw this at the BFI Southbank in London. Catch it if you can. It is directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun who has many great films under his belt - including Darrat which is also on at the BFI in an Haroun season and is well worth seeing.

I'll give this 7.5/10.

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