French films always make me feel romantic, but most of life’s love is not romantic. It exists platonically between people who were born into love and agree to take care of each other: grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, parents, and children.”Daratt” (2006), the most recent installment of The Tournées Film Festival, by director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, examines the unlikely relationship between two men: Atim, the main character, and Nassara, the man who killed his father during the devastating civil war (1965-1993) in Chad before he was born.
“Daratt” is the first film of the festival to take place outside France. It’s easy to forget that entire countries of North Africans round their mouths and utter the throaty French “r” on a daily basis, but the sensual French language against the backdrop of a very different culture adds to both the cinematic quality and historical intrigue of the film.
The scenes of Chadian villages are quaint with narrow roads, like the villages of France, but colors appear on the screen flat and unadorned, as part of the architecture of the landscape directly lining a cerulean horizon.
However, like many films based in Africa, such beauty surrounds imagery that screams out socioeconomic messages in the form of starving children, ignoble soldiers, genocide, religious division, distrust and crowded, chaotic streets.
At the beginning of the film we learn through a radio broadcast that The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has decided against condemnation of those responsible for the genocide during the civil war. Atim’s grandfather asks his grandson to take the matter into his own hands by giving Atim his father’s own gun to kill Nassara. When Atim arrives in Nassara’s village, however, he finds a bread baker instead of a ruthless killer, who donates to the poor and seeks redemption through regular attendance at the local mosque. Atim hides his identity from Nassara until the end of the film, and their relationship develops in ways contradictory to Atim’s original motive. Eventually, Nassara wants to adopt Atim as his son.
Haroun reveals that love between people, even in the most trying circumstances, is more natural than hate and violence. In the end, Atim proves a stronger man than Nassara and the other civil war perpetrators, by finding a way to both cure his grandfather of his agony over his dead son and save Nassara’s life.
A person’s capacity for justice is embedded in one’s conscience. Nassara and the grandfather both lose a son. Atim’s eagerness to please his grandfather, contemplative nature, and both his rejection of and submission to Nassara’s love determines the men equal in their loss.
The film is 96 minutes long, and is very quiet and pensive. Much of the film takes place in Nassara’s bakery, showing the two men making bread together with only the sound of the oven and the baking process — the film is not about dialogue. Instead, the viewer is able to listen to what is not said. The most powerful scenes are ones that embody Atim’s attachment to his blood as his father’s son, which erupt sporadically, revealing Atim’s internal turmoil.
Be sure to attend the next film, “A tout de suite,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. in Wriston Auditorium, January 31 through February 2.