Un Homme Qui Crie (A Screaming Man) (Mahamet-Saleh Haroun, 2010)
Despite its title, A Screaming Man is a very quiet film. It comes from Chad, which if you’re not up on your African geography forms a slight bit of Nigeria’s northeastern border. While I certainly can’t claim to be any sort of authority on Nollywood’s output, having only seen a half-dozen or so flicks that have come out of the billion-dollar-a-year-plus Nigerian/Ghanian film industries, but A Screaming Man seems about as far from the Nollywood axis as it is possible to get in African film; there is much more of Ousmane Sembene’s minimalism here than there is the Nollywood push towards spectacle.
Adam Ousmane (given what I said above, no way that name is a coincidence) (Dry Season‘s Youssouf Djaoro) is a former swimming champ who’s now the pool attendant at an upscale hotel. He has a good relationship with his twenty-year-old son and apprentice Abdel (Caché‘s Dioucounda Koma); Abdel feels the same basic restlessness of any late-teenager still living at home, but it’s not a big point of contention in their relationship or anything. Adam’s got life pretty good, all told; his relationship with his wife is great, Abdel’s got himself a girlfriend, all seems to be right with the world. Until, that is, the hotel is bought by a Chinese company looking to cut costs. They install Abdel as the pool attendant and offer Adam a job as a doorman-cum-concierge; he refuses, and spends the next few weeks wandering about town in a state of high dudgeon. Meanwhile, the country is sliding slowly and inevitably towards civil war, and families are being urged to contribute what they can to the war effort. Adam’s family are poor and have nothing to contribute. But, in the movie’s pivotal scene, a friend of Adam’s proposes a solution that may both pacify the government and get him his old job back: send Abdel to the front lines.
Much like Hunger, the widely-celebrated Bobby Sands biopic, this movie turns on that central conversation, and Haroun handles it just as adeptly as Steve McQueen did in his excellent film. These are characters we can care about, folks who face universal problems, have moments of weakness, make good decisions and bad ones, face the consequences of their actions. The actors chosen to portray these characters do so with simplicity and naturalism; there is very little affect here. That will probably affect some folks negatively—not in any overt way, just a sense that something is off that you can’t quite put your finger on (because it’s very different than the way things are done in America, not just in Hollywood, but in a lot of indie film as well). On the other hand, I can see people watching this movie and saying “holy Abbas Kiarostami, Batman, this is exactly the kind of movie I have been searching for all my life and I didn’t know anyone had ever made!”.
There is a downside to that, however minor; there are times when it feels like the issues this film takes on, and they are weighty issues indeed, are treated more simplistically than they deserve. I’m not sure you can help that when you’re using a civil war as a plot device, and I rush to add here that I didn’t have a problem with it, but I can see where others would. (The fact that civil war in Chad is about as common as hissing cockroaches in Madagascar may well be a mitigating factor; perhaps, to Haroun, who was born and raised in Chad, civil wars are not as weighty a subject as they are to an American…) But matters of expedience aside, A Screaming Man is a simple story, simply told, and it is well worth watching. *** ½
Bonus video. In case you didn’t catch the subtitle: