Thursday, March 31, 2011
A Screaming Man. (2010) Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Often when I choose to see a foreign film it's simply out of a curiosity to peek into another culture. Other times I'm looking for global ideas in storytelling, the kind of ideas that stray from the control of western culture. A Screaming Man caters to both of these needs, packing a realist family drama in an artistically shot film, capturing Chad and its land and culture in an absorbing film.
The simple story almost feels like an Old Testament tale, like Abraham, Moses or Joseph -- stories which can be told in a few quick chapters but have been expounded on for generations.
Adam, a former champion swimmer now referred to as "Champ," now pushing sixty, works as a pool attendant at a N'Djamena hotel. He and his son Abdel share the responsibility of the place each day. They go home to mom Mariam at night, who feeds them well and looks after the family's emotional well being. The country is in the throes of a civil war and the military has begun asking families to volunteer -- which in Adam's case would mean signing up his son -- or contribute money to crush the rising rebellion. It is assumed that every family will at some point contribute something. Adam doesn't have any money that he can give.
When new owners take over the hotel and Adam's friend, a long-time chef is let go, change is obviously in the works. Adam is told that the job of pool attendant should be done by one person, there's no need for both him and his son. He's informed that Abdel will be permanently taking over the job, and that he will now being wearing a uniform outside the hotel as the gatekeeper. He goes into a deep, dark depression. The pool has been his life. He sits at the gate opening and closing it for cars that come and honk at him, pulling him out of a zoned state. He is crushed.
In the moment of crisis Adam makes a decision regarding the fate of his son that will ensure he'll be back in his old position. It's not too long before he regrets what he's done, but it is too late. He asks his friend David, the ex-chef, whether he believes in God. Some transgressions might be rectified in the next life but can't be taken care of in this one. Sometimes a lapse in judgment cannot be recovered. This is a film about a decent man who has lived moral life, wrecked by one wrong move. It's about the guilt and consequences of dealing with that one mistake you can never get over.
It is also a film with a very strong crescendo. It might seem like it's very simple when it begins. It seems like it's only got a few tricks left at the half-way point. But the final frames of the story are pointed, as we observe Adam only trying to recover and put the pieces back in place. To compare the opening scene of Adam and Abdel hugging and frolicking in the pool with the final scenes of devastating consequence is a reminder that life can turn on us fast, that we need to guard every choice as fragile and choose wisely in every decision.