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Present-day Chad. Adam, fifty-five, a former swimming champion, is pool attendant at a smart N'Djamena hotel. When the hotel gets taken over by new Chinese owners, he is forced to give up his job to his son Abdel. Terribly resentful, he feels socially humiliated. The country is in the throes of a civil war. Rebel forces are attacking the government. The authorities demand that the population contribute to the "war effort", giving money or volunteers old enough to fight off the assailants. The District Chief constantly harasses Adam for his contribution. But Adam is penniless; he only has his son....Written by
Life is not a spectacle - A Screaming Man by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
"Be careful not to cross your arms over your chest, assuming the sterile attitude of a spectator, because life is not a spectacle, a sea of pain is not a proscenium, and a screaming man is not a dancing bear." (Extract from Aimé Césaire's poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, 1939
Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's fourth feature tells the story of Adam, or "The Champ" (Youssouf Djaoro) as he is also known, a former swimming champion in his mid- fifties, who works as a hotel pool attendant; a job in which he takes immense pride. Adam's closest colleague is his son Abdel (Dioucounda Koma), a twenty year old who documents every day of his life with his camera. Father and son make a harmonious pair and their family is a happy one, despite an intensifying civil war and the plans to privatise the hotel where they work. That is until the day the hotel management's cutbacks hit the family and Abdel is made pool attendant in his father's place. The looming threats of armed rebels approaching the city offers an unfortunate opportunity for Adam to restore himself, or at least that is what he, whose identity is intrinsically tied to his job and his past achievements, thinks.
A Screaming Man talks about loss of self, not as a consequence of happenings beyond our control, but of the choices we make when life throws us off guard. "Life continues", says David (Marius Yelolo), the hotel chef and Adam's close friend who is among the first to be affected by the down-sizings. Both men struggle to come to terms with the realisation that their passion and zest for life is of little value to anyone but themselves. The problem, David concludes, is that we put our destiny in God's hands – a God he still believes in but in whom he has lost faith – thus implying that there is room for human intervention regardless of the magnitude of the challenges we face. That it is in fact up to ourselves to decide what kind of person we want to be and how to express and live up to the decision once it has been made.
Adam's wife (Hadje Fatime N'Goua) scolds both her husband for having changed when he meets danger with passivity, and the invisible neighbour who thinks nothing of asking for favours without ever offering anything in return. She knows that there is pride in cooking, in singing, and in caring and providing for one's family. In having a purpose, and in trying to be the best one can be. And she knows that inherent in pride is the sense of dignity that helps us to treat others and ourselves with respect. Just before we lose ourselves we lose the little things; the subtle detail, the unsaid and the almost unnoticed, like the acts of saying "thank you" after supper. Haroun evokes the ordinary, not horror or deprivation, which he merely illustrates by the absence of what used to be. The civil war, like the rationalising process at the hotel, is but a backdrop and a circumstance; not a defining factor.
In his characteristic careful and understated manner Mahamat-Saleh Haroun shares the secret behind a decent life with an audience who has time for the mundane and the slow unfolding of seemingly undramatic events brimful with meaning. A secret spelled dignity and pride, be it that of a father, a professional, or a frightened man who has decided that his best years are behind him.
Talented South African filmmaker Khalo Matabane once tweeted "Great art speaks to the essence of what it is to be a human being; not only material and physical aspirations but existential too." A perfect description of A Screaming Man; a brilliant work of art in its own right, and in the way the film relates to its characters' ability and need for full self-expression through cooking, singing, swimming or tending to a pool.
This and other reviews available on the blog In The Words of Katarina (wordsofkatarina.blogspot.com)
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