Watching African cinema is always a bit of a haphazard experience for me as its shaped by the vagaries of, on the one hand what films have been released on Region 2 DVD and on the other that have come to the attention of the jury of a big film festival. The annual Africa in Motion film festival in Edinburgh (this year running from 25th October to 2nd November) is pretty much the only opportunity to see anything approaching a representative selection of any particular country’s filmic output or of any particular director’s oeuvre. So imagine my excitement when I was browsing the library shelves and discovered not only a copy of Cannes winner from two years ago A Screaming Man but also two of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s previous films, Abouna (Our Father) and Daratt (Dry Season) which I pounced upon while I could.
Chad itself is a somewhat geographically diverse place and between Abouna (2002) and Daratt (2006) Haroun uses quite a variety of both urban and rural locations. The films were made either side of the most recent civil war to rock the country and in some ways the different preoccupations of the films show it. Yet in others, the latter film is more hopeful than the former – in the first, two boys going looking for their father and end up loosing much more, in the second a young man goes in search of vengeance for his father and finds things worth far more. Neither of the films is burdened with excess dialogue, nor do they shy away from the spaces and silences between people and conversations. Whether you choose to see that as demonstrative of the failures in communication between generations or communities is up to the viewer and their opinion may fluctuate from film to film. Perhaps it is telling that the deaf mute girl, Khalil, seems to have the least trouble making herself and her feelings understood of all the characters in the films.
But perhaps it is the similarities between the two films that is the most significant. The protagonists of both films are trying and failing to make a peace, however temporary or transient, with their unwilling circumstances. They are both films about coming of age, of facing responsibilities and failing in them, their young protagonists torn between their own desires and the needs of their families. The latter more than the former, suggesting that there might be a third way, a way to balance following one’s heart, with fulfilling one’s responsibility to family. Whether that can be mapped out onto the hearts of an entire nation, to draw a path like Atim’s between brutal revenge and complete amnesty, to make a true peace with the opposition even if forgiveness is beyond reach, is another question. But it’s nonetheless a hopeful question. One that puts the power back in the hands of those who have been buffeted and damaged by the violence and destruction of forces more powerful than they. It suggests that lasting peace will not come through grand gestures of governments and tribunals but through small individual actions and gestures over a long time.
Perhaps making bread is a more effective metaphor for making peace than it seems initially, requiring as it does a firm hand but a light touch, a lot of patience and being a rubbish way to exorcise your hate. (Bread will apparently taste bad if made with hate in your heart.)