Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
2010, Chad/Belgium/France, 103 mins.
Early on in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s powerful A Screaming Man, we see a confrontation between a father and a son. Adam, the father, is scolding his son, Abdel, because he didn’t wear white to work. They both work at the hotel pool in N’Djamena, Chad, and when we reach the end of the film, that scene suddenly takes on a new and tragic meaning. Haroun’s film works so well because, despite being a somewhat political film, it isn’t a message movie. It isn’t trying to bring attention to the ongoing conflict in Chad, it is just trying to tell a story.
The film, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes, centers around Adam, an aging swimming champion who works at a western hotel in Chad. He runs the pool but times are tough and the hotel has started to fire people because they can no longer afford to keep them. Adam soon losses his job as the manager of the pool but is allowed to keep on working as a security guard, a job he loathes. He also doesn’t have enough money to support the Chad government, as he is broke.
What happens next will not be revealed, but it packs quite a punch. We realize that Adam loves his job more than his son and because of that, he never really got to know him. Even more so, he has cut himself off from everyone else around him, silently building up his rage.
The lead performance by Youssouf Djaoro is simply remarkable. He is a very quiet man who doesn’t have much to say and because of that we rely on Djaoro’s facial expressions to carry the day. Haroun’s direction is unusually restrained here compared to other stories of this nature. He knows that he has a powerful script and very good actors, and he lets them do the heavy lifting. It might sound like a backhanded compliment, but it is not. A more heavy-handed approach would have been far less effective.
Jean-Luc Godard once said that “in order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie.” This seems to be Haroun’s critique of In A Better World, to make a better movie. This is the movie that Bier’s movie should have been – it’s profoundly personal and unmanipulative.