Saturday, 2 April 2011
A Screaming Man
Starring: Youssouf Djaoro, Dioucounda Koma, Emile Abossolo M'bo, Hadje Fatime N'Goua, Marius Yelolo
By Alan Bacchus
Culturally and politically, I have to admire the importance of this film for the Republic of Chad, a country like many in Africa that has suffered from the ravages of war. And for indigenous films in general, it's a strong artistic step forward for a society and people marginalized by imperialism. Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun seems to be taking back cinema in an African neo-realism sort of way. This film is a deceptively simple yet powerful story about the tragic frailties of man, redemption, and the inexplicable bond of father and son. It was undoubtedly influenced by Vittorio De Sica’s benchmark neo-realist classic The Bicycle Thieves.
The film is also a frustrating slow burner with a sort of painful art house pacing and a single staid tone, which builds up to its admittedly emotional and powerful ending.
There’s a very highly dramatic character arc for Adam (Djaoro), an obsolete man whose only relevance in life is his status as a former champion swimmer and his job as a pool boy. When Adam is fired from his job and given to his son Abdel, he commits a dramatic act of family betrayal, as he commits Abdel to military service. Although he's practically forced to do this, Adam's guilt runs through him like fingers on a chalkboard. The regret of this decision fuels his dramatic journey to find Abdel and bring him home. His redemption completes an overarching narrative of pure melodrama under the guise of art house.
With regard to his hero, Haroun unfortunately takes his influence from De Sica too literally, shamelessly trying to wring out every ounce of sympathy from his main character. What De Sica and his actor Lamberto Maggiorani did so organically in The Bicycle Thieves feels so laboured and exaggerated here.
Adam is portrayed as a reticent everyman. He barely speaks. We see him moping around the picture endlessly, and when he’s not hanging his head, he’s looking off into the distance deep in contemplative thought. I could tolerate Adam’s emotionless silence if there were dynamic, interesting characters to support him. Unfortunately there are none, as everyone else speaks in the same voice and looks just as glum.
In between the few anchors of actual narrative plotting, and in between Adam’s stoic thinking, we see him walking from place to place, again lacking emotion. By the middle and late second act, the constant repetition of these scenes becomes almost laughable.
That said, Haroun doesn’t rob us of a truly powerful and satisfying resolution – however tragic. Adam’s actions and reconciliation reveal A Screaming Man as a disguised melodrama masquerading as art house – which is what De Sica did best.
I imagine this film has even caused controversy within its own community for its cynical view of God and religion, which provides even further dramatic context for what really is archetypal or neo-classical storytelling. So caveat emptor, enter at your own risk.
PS If you hadn’t guessed, the title is ironic – painfully ironic.
A Screaming Man is available on DVD from Film Movement