A few words about Un Homme Qui Crie
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun‘s Un Homme Qui Crie (A Screaming Man), which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, is quite simply a powerful, emotionally devastating experience. In its own beautifully quiet and modest way it delivers an impact that few films can match.
Clearly inspired by F.W. Murnau’s 1924 silent film classic The Last Laugh, both films deal with the downfall of a vain and pompous man who struggles to comprehend the twists of fate and cold hard realities of life, and the meaning of it all. However unlike Murnau’s film which concentrates on a single character and ends with a happy, upbeat ending. Haroun’s film deals with the effects the downfall of his lead character has on his relationships with his family and colleagues, and ends with unbearable sorrow.
The premise is simple. Set in Chad, the film centers around Adam, former swimming champion years earlier, whom everyone calls Champ, and who now works as the swimming pool attendant with his teenage son as his assistant, at a vacation resort hotel. When the hotel suffers from a lack of tourists, most likely due to the civil war raging outside the city, several of the hotel employees are given the boot. However, for Champ his humiliation is greater.
Instead of getting laid off, he is demoted to the hotel gatekeeper, and his son is promoted to pool attendant. The shame and lack of status is too much for Champ to bear and when his son is eventually and forcibly taken away (actually kidnapped) by the government army, because his father is unable to pay off his contribution to the war effort, Champ purposely doesn’t help his son, knowing that he will get his old job back.
From that moment, guilt begins to seep into Champ’s consciousness, and even more so, when his son’s pregnant girlfriend, who he was not aware of before, arrives at his house to wait for his son’s return. And finally guilt and shame, force him to search for his son on the battlefront and bring him back home.
Though the war is never shown, it is always present, with the sound of jets flying overhead, and the graphic reports of the war on TV news reports. But until they effect his life personally, Champ is not interested in that. He has created his own little insular world where the troubles and turmoils of the outside world are practically non-existent. That is until they force their way into his life and he can’t ignore them any longer.
Haroun concentrates on the telling little details on life with wonderfully evocative scenes such as Champ and his wife sharing a watermelon together. But what Haroun is interested in is how political, social and economic pressures can tear apart a family, and one man’s dignity and morality.
Youssouf Djaroro is astonishing as Champ, creating a believable character of a man slowly coming apart at the seams. It’s not a flashy or a show-off performance, but instead a quietly subtle, carefully nuanced performance. Suffering mainly in silence, one look at his haunted, sad eyes says all that needs to be said. What Haroun has created is a heartfelt, genuinely honest and revealing look at the slow destruction of a man’s soul and his desperate attempt to gain it back before it is too late. This is masterful filmmaking by a great film director.
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