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Holding His Breath: Mahamet-Saleh Haroun’s “A Screaming Man”

Holding His Breath: Mahamet-Saleh Haroun's "A Screaming Man"

African cinema is generally woefully overlooked by the West, and the filmmaking being done in Republic of Chad has been particularly invisible. The oversight is not entirely unreasonable; decades of civil war have left the local film industry all but nonexistent—for thirty years there was not even a single movie theater in the entire country. That changed in 2010 when Mahamet-Saleh Haroun won the Cannes Jury Prize for A Screaming Man. His film, the first from his country to screen in competition at the prestigious French festival, now has another distinction, having convinced a government in the midst of war the importance of investing a million dollars in building a movie theater specifically so that it could be shown.

The film follows the decline of Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), a former swimming champion whose whole life revolves around the upscale hotel swimming pool where he has been working as an attendant (the first in Chad’s history) for over thirty years. When new management demotes him to a guard position and hands his old job over to his twenty-year-old son, Abdel (Diouc Koma), he is upset and humiliated. Outside of work, a community leader exerts intense pressure on him to contribute to the government’s ongoing war effort against rebel forces. Practically penniless, the only thing he has to offer is his son. Adam secretly drafts Abdel into the army, securing his precious job and temporary relief from the government’s hounding, but as time goes on the realization of what he has done to his family throws him into crisis. As neighbors all around him begin to flee the country, Adam confronts the reality of war and the consequences of his actions. Read Farihah Zaman’s review of A Screaming Man.

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