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  Daratt [Dry Season]
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Clemmy Manzo
posted 6 September 2007

The tap-tap of a blind man’s cane and the crunch of footsteps in the desert sand as the opening credits roll introduce us to a film that is as hypnotic in (minimal) sound as it is in vision. The dryness of the Chadian desert and the hot arid landscapes, juxtaposed with the clean bright colours of the characters’ clothes makes for a stunning film with fable-like quality.

Yet Daratt is so much more than a feast for the senses. Daratt is a tale of revenge, courage, and of learning to let go. With his third feature film, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun examines what life is like for those people afflicted by the aftermath the brutal civil war which took the lives of 40,000 Chadians. It is a story close to the filmmaker’s heart, as he fled his country to escape the war, leaving behind his family and all those he loved – many of whom were killed in the war.

When it is announced on the radio that all war criminals have been awarded amnesty by the government, the young Atim (meaning orphan) is sent off with a gun by his blind grandfather to avenge the death of the father he never met. An uncomfortable journey through the desert later, and Atim reaches the capital, where his father’s killer resides. Soon enough, he finds Nassara, the man he is looking for. Nassara is a baker, married to a younger wife, and a seemingly devout Muslim leading an ordinary life. Yet his reliance on a speaking device, as a result of his throat having being slashed in the civil war, serves as a constant reminder to us of his violent past, as victim and perpetrator of war crime. And so dialogue is minimal between the two characters – one can’t talk through disability and the other won’t through wrath. The drama unfolds with looks of frustrated anger, furrowed brows and tense body language, yet the effect is mesmerising.

Atim’s seemingly petty antagonism towards Nassara doesn’t stop the baker from offering him a job, which the boy accepts in order to get closer to his target. And so it is that the two men end up working side by side, day after day, forming, despite Atim’s wishes, an inevitable teacher –student bond, which ironically develops into something resembling a father – son relationship. The more Nassara seems to find comfort in Atim’s moody company, the harder it is for Atim to go through with his mission. At every attempt of murder, his trembling hand refuses to pull the trigger. Things take a turn when Nassara asks Atim if he can adopt him. Nassara follows Atim to his home town, where, as promised, his grandfather is waiting for him under the jujube tree in the desert.

With the film’s beautifully moving ending, we watch as the future hangs on Atim making a crucial decision: will he realise that it is not the act of holding a gun without trembling that makes him a man of courage, as his grandfather suggests, but having the strength not to shoot? Haroun ‘s political message is all the more powerful for its contemporary relevance on many levels: to Africa cursed with a painful history, to war torn Chad, to Haroun himself and to each one of us. When will the violence stop? It is with this generation, it is now, Haroun seems to be saying, that we must mark an end to violence. The past will never be forgotten but the time has come to let go and look to the future.

 

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