"No man is an Island" as the Elizabethan poet John Donne said long ago. The Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun was inspired by very similar words from Aime Cesaire's "Cahier d'un retour au pays" which said "beware my body and my soul, beware above all of crossing your arms and assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator, because life is not a spectacle". Indeed it is not! The words carry particular resonance in "A Screaming Man", Haroun's fourth film. Like many great films the storyline is very simple indeed. An aging pool attendant in Chad's capital city N'Djamena has an easy life at a comfortable hotel catering mainly for French speaking white tourists. Once a Central African swimming champion he is respected by the locals for this achievement who respectfully call him "The Champ". But his comfy existence is threatened first by an ambitious son who threatens to take his job, and then by the ever encroaching civil war. We head to a genuinely moving finale.
This quietly impressive film tackles such weighty subjects as families, relationships, love, poverty, guilt, envy, religion and the hope of redemption. Quite an ask all said, but then Haroun is clearly a very gifted director. He has the same unnaffectedness as the great Japanese director Ozu, with whom he has not unreasonably been compared with. Haroun himself was wounded in the early eighties during the decades of civil wars that Chad has suffered, so he can speak from genuine life experience. Chad is a world where losing your job can mean no food. Watch the lovely scenes between Adam and the sacked Congolese cook to see what I mean! It is also a place where even family loyalties can often be sorely tested, which leads to a terrible act. Lead actor Youssouf Djaoro is mightily impressive as Adam "The Champ", giving a powerful and dignified performance. In a film of few close ups, there is one of Djaoro clearly used for dramatic force, that tells you all there is to know about inner torment without a word being said. Now that is damn good film making! Adam's whole world is the swimming pool, and the little matter of wars are unimportant to him. One is reminded of Burt Lancaster's wonderful performance in "The Swimmer" whose character slowly unravels before our eyes as his morally bankrupt life is cruelly exposed for all to see. Perhaps a closer film soul mate is Clair Denis's superb film "White Material", where white dinosaurs in Africa ignore the ever increasing anarchy which threatens to engulf them.
The film is beautifully shot in Chad, with impressive scenes of a motor bike and sidecar in the desert. This bike is almost a character in its own right! The music by the internationally renowned Senegalese musician Wasis Diop is an absolute delight and complements the film perfectly. Lovers of desert blues will be in raptures! When asked by Haroun if he could provide music for the film, he got back to him within 24 hours with the music that was eventually used. Now that is what I call good service! I hope Haroun goes on to make many more films, he certainly deserves to. He is a director who has something fundamentally important to say, and there are not too many of those around at this time. Philip French the Obsever film critic hit the nail on the head yet again when he said the film was a quiet, deeply humane study of family life in Chad. I was reminded of the Good Samaritan parable where the injured Jew is ignored by all except a man who should by all accepted conventions despise him. The watcher is challenged not to be the sterile spectator. A film that gives serious food for thought! It was deservedly nominated for Palme D'Or award at Cannes. There are also some worthwhile extras about the films making, and facts about Haroun. Perhaps not up there with the sublime works of Ozu, but it is worthy of five stars in my insignificant book.