To avenge or forgive—that is the question

Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. December 2006, Chad. Unrated: 96 min.

(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.

The film injects us into the recent history of Chad—specifically the government’s 2006 announcement that all crimes from the civil war era be absolved. The universal amnesty infuriates Atim and his grandfather Gumar Abatcha, who heard the news over the radio. Gumar hands Atim a gun, instructing him to create his own justice by locating and assassinating Nassara, the man who killed Atim’s father. We never really learn why Atim’s father was killed. Instead of taking the Hollywood route by showing flashbacks of the travesty Nassara committed, Haroun chooses to press on, turning the camera to the interactions between Atim and his adversary. 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.