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A Screaming Man

Dir: Mahamat Saleh Haroun

Rating: 3.4/5.0

Film Movement

93 Minutes

There’s very little screaming in A Screaming Man, which despite its strident title may be the quietest film about a rebel insurrection ever made. Director Mahamat Saleh Haroun seems to prefer a slower, more introspective examination of issues, a circumspection that at times seems to be masking a hollow core. In this sense, the bare bones story of Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), a pool manager who finds his livelihood threatened by a variety of malevolent forces, hovers between personal tragedy and underdeveloped political allegory.

Adam, whom everyone in his small Chadian community still calls Champ, was the winner of a Central African swimming tournament in his youth, a victory he’s parlayed into a beloved job watching over a hotel pool. When new Chinese owners buy the hotel, efficiency-minded layoffs begin, starting with two of Adam’s friends. He’s eventually taken off pool duty, replaced by his more capable son and assigned to work the guardhouse at the hotel’s entrance, a sequence of events that leads him to betray his son to regain his position.

There are so many loaded signifiers present in this scenario, from the sight of white tourists frolicking in the pool as rebel forces muster nearby, to Adam’s shocking treachery toward his teenage son, whom he sells off to serve in the army, that it’s strange how empty A Screaming Man often feels. Its rhythm is certainly relaxed, full of long shots of pained or expressionless faces, but whether this indicates an assured command or something less is hard to say. Haroun employs a method of teasing out the emotions involved, allowing awareness to appear gradually and without much dialogue, but there are indications that all this languor covers an empty space.

Basically, if the director is shaping a story where a broken man makes a bad, painful decision and pays for it, then A Screaming Man is a disappointment, a standard-issue tragedy refitted with vague third-world elements. Haroun may be offering something more complex, a subtle commentary on globalist interference and the concept of one generation sending another off to war out of self-interest, but it’s hard to spot the connections between its obvious markers and the workings of the plot. On a first viewing it seems to be trapped somewhere in between, a bland but affecting story with an underdeveloped political agenda.

This isn’t to say that A Screaming Man doesn’t have certain merits. Adam’s conflict is an interesting one, almost biblical despite its simplicity. Ozu is a clear influence, both in the generational conflict and the camera’s habit of staring up at faces, but Haroun lacks the Japanese master’s ever-present humanism, his ability to create purely realistic characters whose circumstances are striated with sadness and emotion.

In assessing the film, two comic scenes stand out. One, in which the restaurant’s boorish new cook scares away a friendly stray dog, ends with a silly exclamation point. Another, shot at a distance while Adam works the hotel’s gate, frantically scrambling to let cars in and out, is brilliant, a Tatiesque set-piece that pinpoints its character’s despair. At the end of the day, A Screaming Man falls somewhere between these two extremes, a puzzling movie pitted with frustrating blank spots.

by Jesse Cataldo

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