Abouna, elogy to respect

Interview with Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, by Olivier Barlet

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What drove you to take on this subject ?
In Chad the phenomenon is occurring more and more: every morning there are press releases, search investigations announced on national radio by the wives of men who have taken off without leaving a trace. I wanted to look into the pain of those left behind, in this case that of the children, who live with the presence of the absent.
The mother speaks about irresponsibility, a word the children try to understand.
It’s an adult word, a word that children don’t understand, so they attempt to learn its meaning…. It’s the first word they learn in their confrontation with the adult world. I wanted to question the children but not in an intellectual way. The absence or the abdication of paternal responsibility is not unique to Chad. What children ask of adults is how to grow and grow up without a point of reference, without transmission.
The father doesn’t say he’s unemployed, and leaves with his tail between his legs.
We don’t know if he broke up with the mother, nor what he said to her. There remains a mystery that the children try to probe into, while bit by bit life goes back to normal. For Tahir, it’s like a series of initiation rites: he is at an early age confronted with adult responsibilities – which is very common in Africa, but not only there, alas. I am always looking to broaden my scope – through a local theme – without, however, losing sight of the aspects rooted in singularity.
The space they use testifies to living conditions: no running water, RFI on the radio, plastic bags spilling out onto public spaces…
This simple realism allows me to show today’s Chad which we have so few images of. It’s also a way for me to maintain my adherence to the neo-realistic school of cinema.
In the movie theatre the children see their father on the screen: the father of their dreams. Is film the realm of the all possible ?
A space of dreams, of the possible, of self-realization. I have become who I am through the cinema – like many people. To confront yourself with a dream forces you to question your own reality. In this way, the children in the film transcend and transgress the space of the cinema to carry out their own investigation.
A convenient way to return to that which is problematic in your recent film, Bye Bye Africa, in which the question of cinema is brutally posed through the example of its sorry state in Chad.
This decrepitude hurts me, because the cinema – for such a country as mine – could even forge a Chad identity. Left to their own devices, Tahir and Amine find refuge in the cinema: and it is there that they discover their father…. It is through dream that we build a world to go beyond our own reality: this dream is not escapism, it is a useful dream.
The book on Amin’s bed table is The Little Prince, a Western text.
When you read the beginning of the book the Petit Prince, you don’t have the impression it is from the West. What I quite like about this fairytale is the idea of lived history. It’s impact is so universal that I don’t consider it as particularly Western. What difference where a work comes from, in fact, insofar as it speaks to me. I appropriate it and it becomes a part of me. Borders are softened with such works, which become a heritage for all.
The image stresses the moral of respect, seen through a curtain of pearls, colors, light beams…
Yes, I think that filming people comes from a kind of morale and that, in effect, it’s from respect that we manage to reveal the true nature of the characters. He who says respect also says distance – a distance to be respected, regarding those you’re filming. And I worked extensively with the set designer, Laurent Cavero and the director of photography, Abraham Haïlé Biru regarding meaning conveyed through a kind of formalism. I wanted everything you see in the frame to be significant, just to the point of it becoming a holy order. Discretion and distance become dominant in this moral conception of the image.
The pastel colors in themselves confer a pronounced softness to the film.
With a Chadian calligrapher and painter friend, Kader Badaoui, we worked on the color harmony so that the film would flow like a river in a its tonality and strong harmony.
This search for respect progresses in a rhythm near to that of meditation, of contemplation.
A film reflects the space in which it is itself a part. Life in N’Djamena is not the same as in Paris or Hong-Kong. It’s not about falling into a tedium, but respecting those you film by taking their environment, their rhythm, their movements into account.
The tracking shots and the all-so-gentle camera movements combine in attempting to capture the humane.
You get an idea of people when you give them time. To get a character’s dimension, he needs to be in his space, his truth. In this way, I refuse too many close-up shots that often give me the impression of spoiling the charm of a character.
Ali Farka Touré’s music reinforces everything we’ve spoken : it flows like a river and carries one to contemplation.
His music truly communicates and always brings an added dimension to the film. While writing the scenario, I already had his music in mind. Without knowing him, I feel in perfect communion with this Malian musician.

///Article N° : 5609


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