film note: Daratt (The Dry Season, Chad, 2006)

Presented earlier this year at the San Francisco Film Festival. The film had its premiere at the the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna, December 2006.

Atim’s father, whom he never met, was killed in Chad’s civil war. Eventually, the government, after a lengthy war crimes investigation, and following the lead of successful programs in South Africa, offers a universal amnesty to all combatants. The killer of Atim’s father is therefore pardoned and never punished. Atim’s grandfather insists that Atim, in order to avenge his father and become a man, must kill his father’s killer. Atim, with his father’s pistol stuck in his pocket, heads off to find him.

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It’s easy to predict, in terms of narrative, where this story will go. Emotionally, however, where it took the main characters, and me, was somewhere unexpected. The strongest and most admirable aspect of this minimalist moral fable is therefore its refusal to be cowed by the expectation of easy sentiment. What sentiment there is, is dearly bought. The main character holds on to his rage and his hatred, even his tribal and cultural traditions, until the very end. But then he makes a single ethical choice, one that may or may not change his country’s future, but that means everything for his own. The film’s final shot, of the grandfather’s and the grandson’s walking off together over a sand dune, expresses hope and pessimism at once. The temptation to cut to another point of view must have been great — you’ll understand what I mean when you see it, and by all means, do — but director Mahamat—Saleh Haroun rarely makes easy choices in this disciplined and austerely-shot film

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