Whether out of guilt or just an enlightened belief in movies, the French have a commendable record for fostering filmmaking in their former colonies in Asia and West Africa.
Mahamet Saleh Haroun was born in war-torn Chad, but he was wounded in the conflict and escaped in a wheel barrow. He went on to study filmmaking in France, and has two previous features to his credit both of which have been highly praised: Bye Bye Africa (1994) and Abouna (2002).
Daratt - which means 'Dry Season' - is a fable made in response to Chad's own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which granted amnesty to war criminals a few years ago.
Atim is a young man brought up by his grandfather after his father was slain in the war. When the man responsible is set free, the boy's grandfather is appalled. He instructs him to find the killer - Nassara - and see that justice is done.
Finding him proves relatively straightforward, but confused and conflicted, Atim hesitates, and to his surprise, Nassara takes him under his wing, adopting him as an apprentice in his bakery and evidently sizing him up as a surrogate son. Although their techniques are as different as their landscapes, Haroun's film has some of the simplicity and force of the Dardennes brothers' revenge story, Le fils (The Son).
Haroun shoots in a very spare, subtle, unhurried manner - there's no style for style's sake. But this concentration pays dividends. You don't want to peel your eyes off the screen because every shot is made to count. Admittedly I think we can guess where this is headed, and you might get impatient with the film's reserve, but its gravity feels appropriate; the ending resonates precisely because it has been earned.
Daratt is the first film released here under the New Crowned Hope banner, an initiative commissioned by the city of Vienna to commemorate Mozart's 250th anniversary, and presided over by the avant-garde American stage director Peter Sellars (no relation). New Crowned Hope spans myriad art forms, but its cinematic component comprises six feature films produced by Keith Griffiths and Simon Field's Illumination Films, a British company best known for its work with the Quay Brothers and Jan Svankmajer.
The films all come from what is known as 'the developing world': Paraguay, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Chad and Iranian Kurdistan. None of them has anything specifically to do with Mozart, although you might strain to catch a couple of bars here and there if you see them all. The notion is that they reflect the progressive, utopian ideals Mozart allegedly espoused.
Be that as it may, I've seen five of the six films, and each one affirms a vision of cinema as an evolving, challenging art form that can speak to life experiences far beyond our own first hand knowledge. While not all of these films have UK distribution as yet, look out for Opera Jawa and Syndromes and a Century on art house release from September. Together these titles represent one of the film events of the year.
Titles related to this article