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Katarina Hedrén
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Katarina Hedrén (Africiné)

Mahamat-Saleh HAROUN, Filmmaker © Africiné /Ph: Belinda van de Graaf, Cannes 2010

A Screaming Man, by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (2010)
Life is not a spectacle

"Beware of crossing your arms over your chest in the sterile pose of a spectator, because life is not a spectacle, a sea of pain is not a proscenium, and a screaming man is not a dancing bear." (Extract from Aimé Césaire's poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, 1939)

Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's fourth feature tells the story of Adam, or "Champ" (Youssouf Djaoro), a former swimming champion in his mid-fifties, who works as a hotel pool attendant in N'Djamena; a job in which he takes immense pride. Adam's closest colleague is his son Abdel (Dioucounda Koma), a twenty-year-old who documents every day of his life with his camera. Father and son make a harmonious pair and their family is a happy one, despite an intensifying civil war and the plans to privatise the hotel where they work. That is until the day the hotel management's cutbacks hit the family and Abdel is made pool attendant in his father's place. The looming threat of armed rebels approaching the city offers an unfortunate opportunity for Adam to restore himself. Or at least that is what he, whose identity is intrinsically tied to his job and his past achievements, thinks.

A Screaming Man talks about loss of self, not as a consequence of happenings beyond our control, but of the choices we make when life throws us off guard. "Life continues", says David (Marius Yelolo), the hotel chef and Adam's close friend who is among the first to be affected by the downsizings. Both men struggle to come to terms with the realisation that their passion and zest for life is of little value to anyone but themselves. The problem, David concludes, is that we put our destiny in God's hands - a God he still believes in but in whom he has lost faith - thus implying that there is room for human intervention regardless of the magnitude of the challenges we face. That it is in fact up to ourselves to decide what kind of people we want to be and how to express and live up to the decision once it has been made.

Adam's wife Mariam (Hadje Fatime N'Goua) scolds her husband for responding to danger with passivity and the invisible neighbour who thinks nothing of asking for favours without ever offering anything in return. She knows that there is pride in cooking, singing, caring and providing. In having a purpose, and in trying to be the best one can be. She knows that inherent in pride is the sense of dignity that enable us to treat others and ourselves with respect. Just before we lose ourselves we lose the little things; the subtle detail, the unsaid and the almost unnoticed, like the acts of saying "thank you" after supper, and lustfully sharing a melon with a lover. Haroun evokes the ordinary, while illustrating horror or deprivation by the silent absence of what used to be. The civil war, like the rationalising process at the hotel, is but a backdrop and a circumstance; not a defining factor.

In his characteristic careful and understated manner Mahamat-Saleh Haroun shares the secret behind a decent life with an audience who has time for the mundane and the slow unfolding of seemingly undramatic events brimful with meaning. A secret spelled dignity and pride, be it that of a father, a professional, or a frightened man who thinks that his best years are behind him.

When A Screaming Man (after winning the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival in 2010) showed at FESPACO in 2011 (where it won the Silver Stallion for second best film) it was difficult to not walk out of the cinema feeling sad for a film festival that seems to have lost the ambitions it once had to be a vehicle for African self-expression and completion, and that appears to have forgotten the importance of excellence, not as an end in itself, but as a celebration to, and the most powerful way of showing the best that Africa can be. A festival that hides excellent and highly acclaimed films like A Screaming Man and a handful other gems in a sea of mediocrity or worse (blaming deprivation and scarcity of resources for lack of quality that often has more to do with artistic and professional ambitions). A festival that, more and more, is resembling a dancing bear. But more on that another day.

South African filmmaker Khalo Matabane once tweeted "Great art speaks to the essence of what it is to be a human being; not only material and physical aspirations but existential too." A perfect description of A Screaming Man; a brilliant work of art and an insightful reflection on our ability and need for full self-expression through cooking, singing, swimming or something as unassuming as tending to a swimming pool.

"Review first published on Katarina's blog: In the Words of Katarina
På svenska: En man som skriker (Ciné.se)

Twitter: @KatarinaHedren

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   liens films

Un homme qui crie 2010
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

   liens artistes

Djaoro Youssouf

Haroun Mahamat-Saleh

Koma Diouc

Yelolo Marius


12/05/2010 > 23/05/2010
festival |France |
Festival de Cannes 2010
63e édition

26/02/2011 > 05/03/2011
festival |Burkina Faso |
FESPACO 2011 (Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou)
22e édition

17/03/2011 > 25/03/2011
festival |États-Unis |
Boston Francophone Film Festival 2011
Francophone Film Festival | Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

   liens structures

Belgique | Bruxelles

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