One thing that can be an easy trap to fall into when your experience in a certain cinema is fairly limited is to take one filmmaker’s world view or aesthetic and transplant it blindly to an entire nation’s films. I say this because it was only after having watched Grigris in its entity that I had seen Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s prior effort A Screaming Man.
That film was my first exposure to him and Chadian cinema both. My reaction to A Screaming Man, one of my favorite films of that year, was as follows:
I am one who can be swayed but a very restrained and minimalist tale. This is a perfect example of that. Here you have the very simple story of a man who works tending to a pool in a posh hotel in the central African nation of Chad. Since he used to be a swimmer the pool is his life. He says as much. As civil war encroaches on the routine of his life and tears his family asunder he tries to keep control of things. You never learn too much about the conflict. War is war. Civilizations get caught it in it whether in the crossfire of by some form of collateral damage. Events are at times implied and others commented upon, facial reactions are restrained or non-existent but it gets you. I was brought to tears by this film. When it ended with a gorgeously languid fade to black I was completely gutted and left wanting another scene for more closure but knew another scene would not be right. The film had ended and we the audience like our protagonist would have to live with what had transpired.
What is still similar in this narrative is that everyday life in Chad is a struggle for survival. However, and as the inside of the dust jacket insinuates, it is a film that also has its sociopolitical comments but also blends several different genre conventions to tell a new kind of tale.
The motivations of character are clear, the filmmaker’s motivation to make the film spring from a real-life encounter with this dancer with a crippled leg. What springs forth is a sort of modern neorealist tale that incorporates various conventions to tell a tale familiar enough to those overseas but structured in a way that is as uncommon to us as the backdrop of Chad.
While I personally felt the tug of emotion from the subtly minimalist rendition offered in the prior film more, Haroun’s is a voice I definitely want to hear more of on film.