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On the surface a simple, affecting tale of two sons' search for their
absent father, Abouna is actually a film of some sophistication.
At one point the brothers visit a cinema. The posters outside advertise the African film Yaaba, Chaplin's The Kid and most notably Jim Jarmusch's Stranger Than Paradise (hardly likely to be topping the bill in Chad). Other posters which would have been apt include "Pather Panchali", "Les Quatre Cent Coups" and any one of a number of recent Iranian movies.
Jarmusch's elliptical style of story-telling seems a particular influence, all of the obvious plot points (a kiss, a capture, a death) occur off-camera and the dialogue is more about what is not said than about what is. I do wonder a little whether an audience in Chad would buy this deadpan style or whether the film is really aimed at the First World art-house audience, but for me it works well.
There seems to be a metaphor in the idea of the absent father, perhaps relating to a country that the director feels has lost its way after many years of colonialism and war. The central family is not poor by African standards, but life is still harsh.
Much of the music is by the Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure, and you can really hear the African roots of the Blues in his playing. The images of landscape, skin, children playing are beautiful.
When Tahir and Amine wake up one morning they find their father has
already left the house. When he fails to return for their football
match they begin to think something is up and their mother is no help,
refusing to help find him and hoping to just move past this useless
man. However when the two sons start to look for their father they find
that he has not been to his job in over two years and they believe that
they have seen him in a film shown at a local cinema. When they get in
trouble for stealing the film, their mother sends them away to a Koran
school where the boys quickly realise that things will not be as good
as they have been told.
Although I do not know a great deal about Chad other than where it is, it is hard not to spot that a story that contains such things as a lack of a leadership role and the dream of getting to the sea (that represents a new world) clearly has some other meaning beyond the narrative that applies to the landlocked African country. However, beyond the most obvious of metaphors, I wasn't able to read a lot of the finer points in the film but this did not mean that I wasn't able to enjoy it, because I was. The story is still an interesting one even if some subtexts went over my head. The emotions and plights of the characters are easy to read and are engaging throughout. Ali Farka Toure's score is as haunting as much of his music and it aids the emotional impact of the film without ever making it cloying or manipulative.
Moussa's Tahir is convincing and engaging while Aguid plays the little brother role well enough to steal the audience heart but without making it into a simple "cute kid" performance that is often the result of Western child performances in films. The support cast are all pretty good and everyone, from the leads to the smallest roles, come over as natural and realistic. However the main stars of the film for me were the director and the cinematographer because they produce a beautiful film that frames shots fantastically while also bringing out colour and places really. It is the sort of film you could take screenshots of and use them as pictures in your home.
Overall this is a great film that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Watching this film and countless others like it from Africa you do have to wonder why Bob Geldof decided that loads of singing white people was the best way to raise awareness of Africa Live8 is fine but why not get the global cinema chains to buy in with screenings of films like this with all proceeds going to the poverty campaign? Anyway, regardless of that this film will become known with time because it is strong enough to do the rounds. I may not know a lot but the metaphors are clear to read although, even without them the film is a haunting and beautiful piece that is well worth trying to find.
I really felt like I got to know something about Amine and Tahir, as
well as their African land and people. The cinematography is calm,
reflective and colourful. It was interesting how the story skipped over
climactic points, leaving it to the viewer to fill in what was being
led up to.
Perhaps most remarkable is that the film held the complete attention of my seven year old brother. At one stage he said "I know where he left his medicine". This is proof that story still has power and that the non-stop eye candy of films like "Cars" is not all it's made out to be. Abouna is a story well told.
I read that this was the first feature length film from Chad (meaning, fully financed, with most cast/crew from Chad). So it is worth seeing just for that, to honor the filmmakers who, amidst all endeavours of making a film in a country that lacks resources for local cinema, were able to get things done. But one thing that struck me the most, technically, was the lighting in this film. Using layered structures of fore and backgrounds, for instance a character would be in the foreground sitting in a dark room by the window. He would appear as a dark silhouette, surrounded by a dark room, but in the back ground we see the view from outside the window. They obviously set their light exposures to outside to get the effect, but it is noticeable because of it being used several times. This and many other conscious decisions comment on the abilities of the filmmakers and their wilingness to employ the tricks of the trade, even if local cinema in Chad is very new.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It seems that the prevailing theme of this film is one of INDIRECT
The communication between the characters of the film happens more through gestures and body language than via dialogue. The simple, uncluttered script is littered with imperative commands (usually dispensed by adults), unanswered questions (from both adults and children) and discourse that is open to interpretation. This is of course seen most clearly in the interactions of the older brother and the deaf-mute girl. Words are not needed when so much as a look or a gentle stroke of the cheek can convey so much, and so poignantly.
So many of Amine's questions go unanswered that his situation becomes desperate, and this is manifested in a psychosematic / trauma-induced asthma condition and eventually in his demise.
The slow camera-pans past the many striking faces of the dusty Chadian boys is an image to stay with the viewer long after the film. It may remind the viewer of the Portrait photograph series by Steve McCurry.
If you have never seen the sea, you cannot know what it is like
If you are used to seeing the sea, it is hard to know what NEVER having seen the sea must be like !
The film Tilai (1990) from Burkina is also recommended to keen viewers of African films.
A visual narrative on ordinary folk with a simple but instantly
recognisable plot on family responsibility. Children and women are
often the victims in male dominant third world societies. This film
aims to express this through the eyes of children in a fragile society.
In the aftermath of post-colonial and civil war-torn Muslim state Chad,
a father leaves home for Morocco, leaving behind his wife and two boys,
presumably to make money for his family. Their mother becomes stressed
and cannot assert full parental responsibilities alone and so hands her
children over to a nearby Koran school. Here, the boys plot to venture
out and find their estranged father, not realising the extent of the
journey or indeed where Morocco is - other than by the sea. As most
people in the desert region of Chad have never seen the sea, their
quest becomes a dream not to be fulfilled.
The pace of the film is deliberately slow. The narrative is mainly visual. The use of non-actors gives it that realistic edge. To me it is another fine example of indigenous African cinema that aims to bring home the reality of life. Cinema isn't just there to entertain (or make money) it is also to educate and enhance thought. Well recommended piece of social realism.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An absorbing blow by blow account of the odyssey of two castoff kids, ABOUNA is one of the truly great foreign films- and, like many foreign films, it deals with real world woes in a low-key, understated fashion that oftentimes makes the viewer forget that s/he is watching a movie. (Like MANON OF THE SPRING, MY FATHER"S CASTLE, anything with Gerard Depardeau, etc.) ABOUNA reminded me of something that happened to me one night when I was driving a cab. A young boy climbed into the front seat of my cab. Without preamble, he looked at me and asked (although I'm not black and he was): "Are you my daddy?" I twisted around to look at his mother, who was getting into the back seat, and replied, "Not that I know of..." His mother froze and stared at me for a moment before chastising him. It was at once funny and profoundly sad. I've known too many castoff kids whose absentee fathers couldn't've cared less what happened to them to see a movie like ABOUNA and not break down and cry like a baby. Which I did. It'll break your heart- and, if it doesn't, it's only because you have none.
There is no doubt that "Abouna" (Our Father) is a good African film as it features extremely fine performances from its young actors about a tragic tale which is both inspirational as well as entertaining.As far as inspirational material is concerned,there is a lot to learn in "Abouna" for two brothers named Tahir and Amine as their fragile, innocent lives are transformed as a result of a sudden,unexpected disappearance of their father.One can say that African cinema is full of many ignored masters of cinema.This is the reason why a film based in Africa can never be devoid of cinema.This has been depicted in this film by showing a cinema hall with posters of many great films.It is really a miracle of sorts that Chadian filmmaker Mahamat Saleh Haroun was able to make this film despite numerous financial hardships.As Abouna has been hailed at many film festivals all over the world,it can be said that it can easily be recognized one of those films which has the necessary potential to lead many African film industries on their paths to success.
There can't be many countries in the world that the average Briton knows less about than Chad; indeed, when I saw this film on television, the announcer described the place as part of Cameroon! Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's film is thus interesting as a glimpse of a life rarely seen by westerners; and if at times the characters seem a little short of dialogue and motivation, the imagery is striking and the sentiments heartfelt. 'Abouna' doesn't feel like a finished, polished movie; but there's the talent of it's director is definitely on display, his use of stillness and silence partially offsetting the relative absence of conventional plot.
For a film with a relatively short 84 minute running time Abouna (Our
Father) felt like an eternity.
It follows the (mis)fortunes of 2 young boys after the disappearance of their father, whom I assume had gone accross the Chadian(?) border to look for work abroad.
The direction is pretty good and features some beautifully constructed shots of the Chadian landscapes. The beginning and the end are well paced but the whole middle section of the film drags on forever. Special mention goes to the young girl who plays the deaf mute, she was fantastic.
Still, it is worth going to see even if it's just to drag you out of the multiplex and into your local art-house!
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