Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

"This Chad/France co-production is pleasant enough viewing, but felt somewhat calculated, polished and ersatz to me." | Photo: Abouna © DUO FILMS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

One day Tahir and Amine wake up to discover their father has disappeared. They go in search of him, but to no avail. Time passes. Amine continues to pine for his father (Godot?), while Tahir develops an interest in a village girl...

This Chad/France co-production is pleasant enough viewing, but felt somewhat calculated, polished and ersatz to me.

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To oversimplify somewhat, it didn't come across as an African film made by and for Africans. Instead it felt like a world cinema piece, aimed squarely at European and North American audiences, looking for something mildly exotic, yet still within their comfort zone.

Perhaps, it's the fact that writer/director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is French educated and worked in the French media, prior to turning to filmmaking. Whatever the case, watching Abouna, I didn't learn anything about life in Chad, or what is particular about its cinema. Instead, I saw an opening that plays like De Sica's neo-realist classic, The Bicycle Thieves, with the boys' father substituting for the bicycle.

Then, after a self-referential sequence, where Amine and Tahir see their father on the cinema screen, I saw a take-off of Truffaut's Nouvelle Vague masterpiece, The 400 Blows, as the pair are sent to a disciplinarian Islamic school, after being caught stealing the film reel "containing" their father.

It might well be argued that these are canonical films and movements, touchstones that every filmmaker should have an awareness of, regardless of cultural background. But it's also sad if a perceived need to reference them and work within their long-established frameworks, to get a wider audience, prevents new, native styles from developing. That's not so much respect for ones influences as cultural imperialism.

Moments, such as the sequence with a boy literally dragging a baby rabbit about on a string, or the shots of Tahir running through the streets, his demeanour and expression telling us all we need to know of the outcome of his tryst with the village girl, do shine through, showing Mahamat-Saleh Haroun to have a deft filmmaker's touch. The problem for me was that there weren't enough where he showed this confidence to override the safeness and lack of challenge of the whole.

If one can use an analogy from Iranian cinema, Abouna is The White Balloon rather than A Time For Drunken Horses. Some, of course, will welcome the film all the more for this very fact. I simply am not one of them.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2002
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Two brothers from Chad are affected in different ways when their father leaves home.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ***

Director: Mahamat Saleh Haroun

Writer: Mahamat Saleh Haroun

Starring: Ahidjo Mahamat Moussa, Hamza Moctar Aguid, Zara Haroun, Mounira Khalil, Koulsy Lamko, Garba Issa

Year: 2002

Runtime: 84 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Chad/France


EIFF 2002

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