April 6, 2007


Better Judgment Attacks (JAMES BOWMAN, April 6, 2007, NY Sun)

Michael Novak, the scholar and theologian, points to a particular medieval story (best known to English speakers as Chaucer's Tale of Melibee from "The Canterbury Tales") as the cornerstone of modern liberal society. In the story, a man seeking revenge for terrible wrongs finally has his enemies in his power, but he is prevailed upon by his wife to resist taking vengeance.

If Professor Novak is right, we should take "Daratt," by the Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, as being among the more hopeful artifacts to come out of the Islamic world in recent years. As we have learned in Iraq, tribal societies in which vendettas and other sorts of "honor killing" are still commonplace is unpromising ground for democracy and liberal values to take root.

The civil war in Chad makes the one in Iraq -- if that's what it is -- look like a brief scuffle. Continuing on and off more or less since the French left in 1960, it has claimed tens of thousands of victims, including members of the director's family. His film takes this war as its setting.

A Teenager's Quiet Trek Toward Revenge (MANOHLA DARGIS, 4/06/07, NY Times)
Truth arrives as grudgingly as reconciliation in the Chadian film "Daratt" ("Dry Season"). Gently and quietly told, steeped in the kind of resigned sorrow that can come after years of hurt and disappointment, it is an unassumingly political work that unfolds with the simplicity of a parable and the gravity of a Bible story. In 2006, in the uneasy wake of the country's decades-long civil war, a fatherless boy sets out to murder a childless man.

The boy is Atim (Ali Bacha Barkai), or, as he explains in the intermittent French-language voice-over, "the orphan." His story opens with a blind old man, Atim's grandfather, calling out in Arabic for the 16-year-old, his voice echoing through dusty village streets. Barefoot, panting, Atim rushes home, where together he and the grandfather hear radio news of a general amnesty for war criminals, an announcement that sets off angry cries and machine-gun fire through the village. Atim voices outrage, but the old man presents a more concrete response in the form of a gun. "My son was brave as a lion," the grandfather says. But the lion is long dead, and now it's left to the cub to exact revenge.

Revenge is generally wretched business, but in "Daratt," written and directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, it is mainly bedeviling, surprising. Enjoined to undertake what his grandfather calls his "mission," Atim travels to the capital, Ndjamena, where he dashes through traffic, now in sneakers instead of bare feet. He meets a convivial rogue, Moussa (Djibril Ibrahim), who steals and sells fluorescent lights and cautiously makes his way to his target, a baker named Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro). A fierce-looking man somewhere in late middle age, Nassara lives with his pregnant, much younger wife, Aicha (Aziza Hisseine). He works hard, freely hands out his pale baguettes to beggars and worships with the frequency of the devout. He's an exemplary citizen, but there is blood on his hands, not just flour.

Mr. Haroun, whose earlier films include "Bye Bye Africa" and "Abouna," tells this story of a would-be boy-killer and his prey with restraint, a touch of humor and an elegant eye.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 6, 2007 9:05 AM
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