(Originally published in buzz magazine on 11/14/08)
Hailing from the city of Abéché, Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun made a name for himself with his nine-time award-winning 2006 film Daratt (Dry Season in English). The 96-minute feature first ran at the '06 Venice Film Festival, where it received six nominations and won five categories, including the Grand Special Jury Prize.
Screened three times at the annual French Film Festival at Boardman’s Art Theatre, Daratt raises an important question: Why present an African film at a French festival? For one, because France colonized Chad and its other African colonies until 1960. Soon after the end of the colonial period—and even today—the French government and a number of nonprofit organizations began funding African cinema projects.
Atim finds himself out of his element once he arrives in N’djamena, Chad’s capital city. His awkward speech and behavior mark him as an out-of-towner, but he manages to find a friend in Moussa, a local who provides him with room and board at the expense of calling Atim a “yokel.” The young man soon finds his target, and the character of Moussa fades out of the picture as we learn more about Nassara.
Turns out Nassara—a charitable old baker and devout Muslim—is not as sinister a villain as Atim would have hoped. In fact, after an odd staredown between the two outside the gates to his home, Nassara (who we learn had his throat slit during the war) lifts an electronic voicebox thingie to his neck and . . . offers Atim a job. On many occasions during his apprenticeship, Atim clutches his gun and prepares to avenge the disgrace to his family. He takes aim at Nassara in the baker’s most vulnerable moments, but he cannot help but hesitate. After all, Nasara took Atim—a complete stranger—into his home without a second thought. Realizing that pulling the trigger is easier said than done, Atim asks himself whether the government’s decision to grant amnesty for all was the correct choice after all.
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