We were dying to see Mahamat Saleh Haroun’s latest film. His earlier short films had revealed a sharp gaze tinged with humour and a heightened sense of suspense. In his first feature, « Bye bye Africa », and the too little-known « Letter from New York », he developed an innovative style in which questions of image and film combined inseparably with a journey into the realm of the intimate and an acute awareness of the state of Africa. He and Abderrahmane Sissako (whose company in fact produced « Abouna ») were involved in a similar line of experimentation in that both inscribed the real in the narrative through series of quotidian anecdotes and metaphorical details that fragment the cinematographic treatment, giving it beautiful depth.
Yet, in many respects, « Abouna » marks a new direction. The film offers a subject with no digressions. Whilst his earlier works fell into the creative documentary and real-life image vein, here the cinematography, lighting and colours are polished to the point of formalism. Whilst not abandoning the qualities of his earlier creations, « Abouna » testifies to the true progression of an auteur who, right from the start, has always thought film. The two children go to steal the reels of a film in which they believe they spot their father who walked out of their lives without a word. There is no boundary between reality and fiction, making it possible to dream life in order to reconstruct the self, to open up the realms of the possible to re-inject life into reality when it seems to have been snatched away. It is precisely film’s utility, the proposal to broaden one’s view of oneself, of one’s environment, of Africa, that makes « Abouna » so very moving. A demand for respect emanates from each image because the images themselves show respect for their subjects. This is clear from the angles chosen, which include elements of décor and play on lighting, only to reveal the essential without ever violating the person. This is clear from the silences and the gazes, and also the fraternity and filial sense. This is clear from Ali Farka Touré’s music which encourages contemplation. All of this works towards a moral that is not at all narrow, a moral of respect, a proposition to the spectator. It is thus no longer necessary to demonstrate or to say, the images speaking for themselves. The two children cutting across a refuse-strewn square says everything there is to say about the state of the country and their solitude. When the harshness of the Koranic school fails to spoil the beauty of the characters, an intensity asserts itself, far from a banner-waving cinema. It is not about denouncing here, but rather about capturing the poverty and the riches, the limits and the grandeur. Thanks to its humane depth, this gaze most certainly better pinpoints the contradictions and finds a just radicalism. « Abouna » is a hymn to life, an affirmation of dignity, a lesson in cinema.
2002, 81 min, prod. Duo Films (00 33 (0)1 45 79 60 98), Goï Goï Prod., image Abraham Hailé Biru, editing Sarah Taouss Matton, staring Ahidjo Mahamat Moussa (Tahir), Hamza Moctar Aguid (Amine), Zara Haroun (the mother), Mounira Khalil (the mute woman), Koulsy Lamko (the father), Garba Issa (the diviner).///Article N° : 5608