A Screaming Man (Un homme qui crie)
Chad (2010) Dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Adam Ousmane (Youssouf Djaoro) is a former champion swimmer now in his mid fifties, working at a posh N’Djamena hotel as a swimming instructor and pool attendant, along with his twenty year-old son Abdel (Dioucounda Koma). Due to the civil war in Chad hitting the business hard, the new Chinese manager Mrs. Wang (Heling Li) is forced to make some cuts, in which Adam is demoted to gate attendant while Abdel is now the lone pool attendant which Adam takes very badly. With the Chad government forcing citizens to contribute money to the war effort or family members if they are old enough, Adam is under pressure from the District Chief (Emile Abossolo M’bo) to make a contribution. With no money and still feeling humiliated by his drop in status Adam puts Abdel up for conscription to the army. Just days later, a young pregnant woman Djénéba (Djénéba Koné) arrives at the house introducing herself as Abdel’s girlfriend.
With a little help from French backers, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun delivers a contemplative and direct hitting drama which won the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize at the 2010 festival. It’s a fairly minimalist affair in many respects with the occasional long pondering shots of our beleaguered and conflicted protagonist Adam trying to reconcile his actions yet the a story constantly moves forward unlike other films which tend to wallow in these moments to the point of ennui. Haroun also avoids making his film a political polemic on war, instead using the civil war in Chad as a means to explore his look at the selfish sacrifices made by a man tormented by pressure and pride. There is no gun fire or bloodshed to be seen here, the effects of war are shown on the ordinary person who has no desire to be involved.
The title of this film – from a quote from Aimé Césaire’s poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land – is slightly misleading since there is no screaming on Adam’s – or indeed anyone’s – part. Instead Adam takes all of his hardships and carries the burden of the fallout of his decisions quietly and insularly with the remorse nagging away at him at every turn. Adam is clearly a proud man who is still dining out on his championship status from his youth and takes equal pride in working alongside his son at the hotel. In one early scene Adam is suddenly shunned by the former gate attendant, who earlier was his close friend, prior to Adam learning of his new posting which upsets Adam. Later with Abdel now manning the pool alone, Adam shuns his own son in the same way he was earlier, creating tension at home with piggy in the middle wife Mariam (Hadje Fatime N’Goua) left confused as to what the issue is. Mariam is the giver of the family, taking everything in her stride, thinking nothing of helping out an ungrateful neighbour and doesn’t hesitate to open her house to Djénéba when she arrives.
When Abdel is taken away by the military, Adam cowardly hides in his bedroom while Mariam vainly tries to stop them, the first sign that Adam regrets his actions. The seeds for this decision were sown after the district chief told how he gave up his seventeen year-old son to the cause but as Adam later learns he is not the only who resorts to deception to survive. Youssouf Djaoro’s portrayal of Adam is understated and nuanced as he takes this once content man into the depths of despair that a normally passive man is pushed towards through circumstances beyond his control. The overall tone and pace of the film is unhurried allowing Adam’s internal struggles to unfold and take effect with heart wrenching precision. The photography is simple and feels almost sympathetic to Adam’s cause by capturing a tonal snapshot of his every step towards despair.
A Screaming Man is a thoughtful piece of cinema which serves to highlights the problems of its country without wallowing in them while telling a tale of human suffering from an introspective viewpoint.