Dir/scr: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. Fr-Bel-Chad-Aust. 2006. 95mins.
The third feature from Mahamat-SalehHaroun, the director of Bye Bye Africa (at Venice in 1999) and Abouna (which wasat Cannes in 2002), is a pared-back revenge tale with a twist, set against thebackground of the long trail of civil and ethnic strife in Haroun'snative Chad.
One of four films on TheLido this year to be co-produced by Peter Sellars'Mozart-themed New Crowned Hope Festival, due to be held in Vienna in November,this unhurried, austere title, played out via looks, facial expressions andbody language more than dialogue, taking its time to build authority. But thesuspicious circling of the two main characters and the thaws and freezes oftheir relationship is so well managed that DrySeason sticks in the mind long after the final credits.
Sales agent Pyramide has a good chance to place this title internationallyon the arthouse circuit: though set in SaharanAfrica, the story has a primordial, cross-border roots,and after further festival exposure at Toronto, it looks set to emergegradually in territories with significant cinephileaudiences.
Atim (Bacha Barkai)lives in Chad, in a village that seems to merge into the desert, its low whitehouses indistinguishable from the vast, flat expanse of sand that surrounds it.Through a radio news report we learn that the government's Justice & TruthCommission has granted an amnesty for all war crimes committed during thecountry's recent civil conflict. Atim is disgusted:his father was killed in the war, and when his blind grandfather gives him agun and tells him to hunt down his father's killer, he sets out for the distanttown where Nassara (Djaoro)lives and steels himself to take revenge.
Initially Nassara seems to be a good guy: he's a baker, and we (and Atim) first see him handing out the remnants of the day'sstock to hungry street kids. Stymied and playing for time, Atimhangs around outside the bakery and is eventually offered work by his intendedvictim.
This is Dry Season's most compelling section, as the stern, fierce bakerand the angry young would-be assassin jockey for position, the first fascinatedby Atim's cool, determined manner, the latter tryingto stoke his own rage to breaking-point while Nassarateaches him his trade. Soon Nassara warms to Atim and starts to see him as the son he never had.
Sixteen-year old Ali Bacha Barkai, as Atim, keeps up his moody mask through most of the film; hisanatagonist, played by YoussoufDjaoro, acts gruffly aloof from beginning to end. Butthis almost expressionist, Dreyer-esque, silent-movieacting style fits the story perfectly, giving it a mythical depth.
If the theme has thesimplicity of a folk tale then its development certainly does not so itsdevelopment: the audience are forced to adjust its sense of who is the good guyand who is the bad throughout, as Nassara revealsfirst his noble demeanour, then his moral bankruptcy, and Atimbegins, several layers beneath the mask, to question the truth and justice ofhis mission.
An understated coloursymbolism reinforces such ambiguity: the hero is first seen wearing black, thesupposed villain all robed in white.
Abraham HaileBiru's camerawork is slow and meditative, with plentyof roving pans and long-held close-ups and medium close- ups. But despite itsleisurely pacing, Dry Season neverloses attention; and the unforced surprise ending is laconic enough to bebelievable.
Arte France Cinema
Entre Chein Et Loup
New Crowned Hope Festival
Diana Elbaum & SebastienDelloye
Simon Field & Keith Griffiths
Abraham Haile Biru
Ali Bacha Barkaï
Khayar Oumar Defallah