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A Screaming Man | DVD Review

“Haroun masterfully tricks us into caring with a last call upping of the ante, and when all the cards are shown, the true consequences of a moment of selfish hubris resound with a hurt and loss beyond our jaded expectations. Haroun thoroughly prepares us for a cloudy day. And then he unleashes a hurricane.”

The ironically titled A Screaming Man is actually a film of deep, soulful silences and long, languid pauses. While it approaches the karmic character destruction of grand Shakespearean tragedy, the film unfolds on such a gentle, introverted plane the inevitable day of reckoning is all the more heartbreaking for its lack of histrionics. Writer/Director Mahamet-Saleh Haroun has so carefully herded us into the mind of his protagonist that when cruel justice is meted out in the final reels, the viewer feels equally bereft and mournful. Haroun achieves a rare depth of transference to his audience, and he does so without a hint of obvious manipulation.

The contours of A Screaming Man’s tragic path-forward become clear early in the proceedings, and audiences can muster all the intellectual willpower at their disposal to defy the emotional tug of the film’s downward momentum, but its austere pathos will eventually win out. Haroun masterfully tricks us into caring with a last call upping of the ante, and when all the cards are shown, the true consequences of a moment of selfish hubris resound with a hurt and loss beyond our jaded expectations. Haroun thoroughly prepares us for a cloudy day. And then he unleashes a hurricane.

This Cannes Jury Prize winner is a story of rudimentary simplicity. Set in present day Chad, A Screaming Man is all about Adam (Youssouf Djaoro), a 55 year-old pool attendant at a posh resort popular with well-heeled Europeans. He was a champion swimmer in his youth, and is still called “Champ” by his coterie of coworkers and a few old friends. His son, 25-ish Abdel (Dioucounda Koma), works along side as Adam’s assistant, and the two share warming moments of father-son bonding while slowly skimming the pool’s surface to an immaculate shimmer. With bomb blasts from Chad’s perpetual civil war registering only as faint, distant murmurs, the pair carpool to work each day in Adam’s vintage WWII motorcycle, with Abdel comically crammed into the sidecar like a lost solder from Rommel’s African campaign.

But there’s trouble in paradise, as the resort’s new manager (Heling Li) is ordered to prune the deadwood and cut some salaries. Younger, hunkier Adbel is put in charge of the pool his father has devoted his life to maintaining, while Adam is reassigned to gate duty; a grim, thankless job that involves long periods of boredom in a hot, ill-fitting woolen uniform. Adam’s disappointment and resentment lead to tensions at home, exacerbated by frequent visits from the District Chief (Emile Abossolo M’ro) seeking contributions for the government’s war efforts. These donations are far from voluntary, and when cash-strapped Adam faces arrest for non payment, he is informed of an alternate type of contribution acceptable to the Chadian government. But while this barter may save Adam’s skin, and offers some temporary satisfaction, it will ultimately cost him his very soul.

Djaoro is just about perfect as Adam, capturing the character’s petty, self congratulatory vanity in precise, targeted strokes. His days as a star athlete are long past, but Djaoro retains the buoyant swagger from decades old accolades; his self image clearly mired in a distant faded glory. In an amusing scene, Djaoro appraises his physique in a mirror, and seems shocked to discover traces of middle-age jowl and paunch. Meanwhile, sexy young Abdel’s water aerobics class is filled to capacity with admiring ladies, and this reignites Adam’s competitive drive, along with a foolish and destructive jealousy.

In lieu of dialogue, Director Haroun devises starkly simple scenes that communicate Adam’s mental and emotional states with pinpoint clarity. The image of an empty sidecar during Adam’s dusty commute bespeaks his character’s shallow incompleteness, along with the delayed but imminent arrival of his just desserts. Despite the government’s victorious declarations that all is well, a panicked tide of humanity flees Adam’s village when the fighting draws near, unconvinced by promises of rainbows and moonbeams. Mere words cannot be trusted in a time of civil war, and in A Screaming Man, Haroum wisely distrusts them to convey the full measure of his hero’s bitter and costly lapses. Like the nation of Chad, Adam has managed to destroy himself from within, and we can only sit and ache at the horrors of the aftermath.

A Screaming Man was shot on Super 35 – despite its high sounding title, Super 35 is a heavily cropped format usually chosen as a cost saving measure, using about a third less film stock than 2.35:1 CinemaScope – and thus renders a native aspect of 16:9. But there are no corners cut in Laurent Brunet’s exquisite cinematography, as he captures the hot, unforgiving desert sun in all its glory. The glaring natural illumination provides a clever thematic counterpoint; the nation of Chad has no dark corners in which to retreat and share forbidden secrets. Any information that cannot stand the scrutiny of harsh daylight must remain hidden in the deep recesses of the psyche. The transfer maintains the nearly surreal sharpness of the original photography, as every skin pore of Haroun’s sweaty characters seems to jump from the screen.

The native audio track is in Dolby Digital 2.0, and it’s quite crisp, well balanced and free from distractions. The track’s spare simplicity adds an engaging spark of realism, as the mix gives equal aural weight to ambiance and dialogue, and the effect is quite immersive.

Expectations – Dir. Mahamet-Saleh Haroun
A short film by Haroun from 2008 is included, featuring Youssouf Djaoro in the lead as a quiet, introverted character similar to Adam in A Screaming Man. This 28 minute piece is a variant on the classic tale of the Prodigal Son, and here Djaoro is again asked to harbor dark secrets, but this time with a traumatized, glassy eyed daze. The film is similar in pace and tone to the abrupt starkness of Reygadas, but contains enough common elements to be considered a sort of dry run for A Screaming Man. Expectations eventually evokes the type of vague mysticism often found in short films, but it’s a well made and riveting companion piece. Highly recommended.

The disc also includes title cards with brief biographies of Haroun and Djaoro, and A Screaming Man’s theatrical trailer.

The serene, sun drenched aesthetics of A Screaming Man belie a slow burning turmoil that ultimately grows to dominate the film as a character, and a nation, are spun out of control by rapidly changing reality. Despite the background of civil war, Haroun exerts superb control in keeping the story’s focus sharply on Adam’s emotional disintegration, enabling the audience to both share, and see the folly, in his bloated sense of entitlement. The film’s beginning and ending scenes brilliantly echo each other in physicality, but their polar opposite emotional states create a dire and poignant set of bookends. Adam’s heavily burdened heart is now free to scream, but there’s no one left to hear him.

David Anderson

Movie rating – 3.5

Disc Rating – 3.5

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David Anderson is a 25 year veteran of the film and television industry, and has produced and directed over 2000 TV commercials, documentaries and educational videos. He has filmed extensively throughout the United States, Mexico and the Caribbean for such clients as McDonalds, General Motors and DuPont. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Reygadas (Silent Light), Weerasathakul (Syndromes and a Century), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Caché), Ceylon (Climates), Andersson (You the Living), Denis (35 Shots of Rum), Malick (The Tree of Life), Leigh (Another Year), Cantet (The Class)

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