Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Screaming Man (Philadelphia Film Festival)

"A Screaming Man" has a heartrending plot, but the execution isn't entirely successful. The two things that send it most off-course are a disconnect and a lack of focus. A film like "Tokyo Sonata" worked on me because it knew what it was trying to do and did it well. There are parts of this film that are ambiguous when they shouldn't be, and as a result, some of the directness needed for an impact isn't there.

However, there are definitely good facets to this film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes this year. It is nicely set-up and orchestrated by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the writer-director. He follows Adam (Youssef Djaoro), a hotel pool attendant much respected and often referred to as Champ. He works alongside his son Abdel (Diouc Kama), a charmer who carries around a digital camera and takes enough pictures to fill a Facebook page in no time. (Their introductory scene, also the film's opener, is excellent.) This is a working arrangement liked by Adam, but apparently seen as frivolous by the manager (Heling Li, who has a pretty interesting scene towards the end), who eventually demotes him to gatekeeper, leaving Abdel. Adam cannot believe it, even though people around him (such as the cook) have been fired completely. His new job is a drag and, in his opinion, way below him. This is illustrated most effectively in two instances: a long and exaggerated shot of Adam running between the enter and exit gates, trying to let cars in faster and a spread that zooms in to a close up on his face that fills the entire screen.

This scenario is coupled with Chad's rebel conflict, which throughout the film escalates and escalates. A friend of Adam's and apparently the section chief of the neighborhood (Emile Abossolo M'bo) is constantly urging him to give to the war effort, which Adam is reluctant to do. And what happens as a result of his lack of action (or perhaps a sudden burst of action; such is unclear) is catastrophic. (You may want to stop reading now if you want the full effect of the film.)

Abdel is drafted and taken away by the authorities. Adam is viewed in this scene, and if I read it correctly, he's caught between horror and relief. On the one hand he gets his job back, but on the other he loses his only son. It's pretty amazingly and chillingly done by Djaoro and Haroun. This sets the stage for the introduction of the final character, Djeneba (Djeneba Kone), Abdel's singer girlfriend. She is the source of a moment of revelation, although exactly what it entirely means is uncertain.

The ending makes sense to me as a juxtaposition of the contained world (the pool) vs. the real world (the river), although it does kind of rip off Jim Sheridan's "The Field." The problem with it is that it feels minor. It's alluring, but it will result in the film not staying with the viewer.

The film does pretty well in terms of music and cinematography. Wasis Diop's swelling score (although it feels familiar) really suits the movie well, and Laurent Brunet's camerawork is quality. The problem with this film is the disjointed editing by Marie-Helene Dozo. Here's a case where big flaws in the make of a movie can really detract from it overall.

There have been movies recently where the events in the first half are innocuous before a descent into tragedy in the second. These films can only really be appreciated on the second viewing, because the first time through the set-up looks like the filmmaker is wasting time or unsure of what to do. Such films include "The Kids Are All Right" and "Animal Kingdom" (with Noe's "Irreversible" working in the exact opposite). "A Screaming Man" I think could be construed as one of these, perhaps improving with repeats. At this moment, though, I find it working at times, but, due to the uncoordinated direction of Haroun, not as a whole. B-


Anonymous said...

Regardless of whether it achieves what it sets out to do or not, A Screaming Man has some insanely powerful scenes in its second half. I'm thinking in particular of the one in which we see Adam riding around town on his motorcycle after curfew, the empty sidecar a bitter reminder of the loss/absence of his son. There's also the way Haroun never shows you any scene of actual fighting, but manages to build an ever-increasing sense of tension and dread (partly through his masterful use of the radio Adam carries everywhere with him).

Though I was left a little unsatisfied at the end of the film, there was a lot to love in it.

Nick Duval said...

I agree. The curfew scene was good, as was the scene where Adam, his wife, and his son eat an uneasy dinner. My favorite scene, though, was the opener, when they they hold their breath underwater. It was the most uncluttered for me.

Haroun definitely did some interesting things with this movie.