A Screaming Man is the brilliant and heartbreaking new feature from director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (Abouna, Dry Season). It tells the story of hotel pool attendant Adam, a former Central African swimming champion in Chad, known locally to everyone as ‘The Champ’. He works at the pool alongside his 20 year old son Abdel, but when the hotel bosses decide to economise on their workforce, the first to go is Adam’s friend David, the hotel cook, and it’s not long before Adam is humiliatingly demoted to hotel gatekeeper, with Abdel being kept on as the sole pool attendant.
Meanwhile, RPJ rebels are upping their attacks on government forces, and it becomes the responsibility of each citizen to contribute to the war effort, either financially or by supplying a male family member to join the army. Broke and resentful of his son’s new job, Adam secretly signs Abdel up, reacquiring his old position at the pool but inadvertently committing his son to the front line of fighting.
It’s a film about encroaching old age, letting go and accepting change, the struggle between familial ties and the necessity of self preservation when all the odds are against you. It touches on themes of guilt and regret and the inherent competitive nature of father/son relationships. Featuring an astonishing performance by Youssouf Djaoro as Adam, he’s not an entirely sympathetic character, whose central decision to commit his son to the army is questionable at best, but given his powerlessness in the situation with which he’s faced perhaps it’s his only option. How much control we actually possess over external factors affecting our lives is a theme reiterated throughout the film. As Adam’s friend David says to him “David’s not going to beat Goliath this time”.
Diouac Koma as Abdel gives a subtly assured performance too, he realises the importance of the pool job to his father but also the necessity to provide for his own young pregnant wife, it’s inevitable that the son will have to separate himself from the father and carve his own place in the world, it’s just regretful to Abdel that in order to progress at the hotel, it has to be at Adam’s expense.
- “It’s a fickle thing, the heart.”
The fighting provides an unseen backdrop to the film, an integral constituent of both their everyday lives and the film’s narrative. We hear reports on the rebel progress against the army in short bursts from radios and televisions, feeling its’ encroaching presence but staying close to Adam, we see Chad through his eyes and don’t follow Abdel to the front line, serving to heighten Adam’s sense of guilt that he may have committed his son to death, something neither he or we know the answer to until the final scenes. Adam’s consuming guilt is exacerbated by the arrival of Abdel’s pregnant girlfriend Djeneba, he becomes ill and refuses to eat until his son’s return, finally confiding his terrible secret to her and determining to rectify his mistake.
- “I can’t understand what’s gotten into you”
- “It’s not me, it’s the world that’s changed.”
Laurent Brunet’s widescreen photography is exquisite, presenting an immediate sense of place and emotional resonance and whilst somewhat languorously paced throughout, it’s consistently engrossing and rewarding and ensures our attention. This is underscored by a beautiful soundtrack by Wasis Diop that’s never manipulative but complements the stunning images perfectly.
Perhaps the most rewarding film I’ve seen so far at the London Film Festival, I came out and immediately ordered both Abouna (2002) and Daratt (2006). I’ve not seen either of them, but If they’re anything like A Screaming Man, I’m in for a real treat next week.
A Screaming Man (Un Homme Qui Crie) – 2010 – France/Belgium/Chad – 92 mins – Dir: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Screening as part of the Film On The Square strand at the London Film Festival on Wednesday 20th & Friday 22nd October. Tickets available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff