Director: Mahamat Saleh Haroun
Writer: Mahamat Saleh Haroun
Cinematographer: Laurent Brunet
Stars: Youssouf Djaoro, Diouc Kom, Emile Abossolo M’Bo, Hadjé Fatimé N’Goua
Studio/Running Time: Film Movement/92 min.
A Screaming Man is a movie that wants to be two things at once and, like many films that awkwardly split themselves in this fashion, manages to let down both halves in the process. The more interesting of these is what the film at first seems to be: an arty meditation on growing old and watching yourself be replaced by the younger generation. While there’s no shortage of movies on this subject, it’s still a rich vein of material and the beginning of A Screaming Man looks to be another worthy addition to that genre. But halfway through, the film focuses instead on the politics of war-torn Chad, replacing the poignancy of what’s come before with a predictable, if admirable, anti-war sentiment.
Youssouf Djaoro stars as Adam, a champion swimmer on the brink of losing his position as pool superintendent to his son. His tireless work soon leads to his demotion and puts a strain on the relationships of his entire family. At this point, the film takes a left turn when he sells his son into the military in order to get his post back, a radical plot turn that feels in no way motivated by what we’ve seen of Adam so far, not to mention feeling entirely out of place. The rest of the picture follows Adam’s regret for what he did and couples it with tired war story set pieces—it’s almost needless to say that his son’s pregnant girlfriend immediately shows up at his doorstep.
Director Mahamat Saleh Haroun knows how to make stirring images in the typically arthouse Antonioni manner, and the best parts of A Screaming Man come from well-staged shots. The footage he took around Chad is fascinating, with a documentarian’s light touch for observation. But this works poorly with the absurd melodrama the picture drifts into, especially since his skill as a director seems entirely linked with images, rather than acting. Djaoro’s Adam is affectless and never changes expression, and it soon becomes obvious that when Haroun doesn’t know what else to do with a shot he just shows his leading man brooding. By the end of the film this verges on self-parody, and other characters’ emotions seem just as one-note as Adam’s emotionlessness.
A Screaming Man puts too much weight and emphasis on spectators reading their own meaning into the film when the story we’re being told just doesn’t feel right. These characters don’t seem like real people and their choices don’t make real, human sense. In some ways the picture is as divorced from logic as Michael Bay movies, just with a much slower pace. Adam can never become the everyman his writer/director wants him to be because his melodramatic choices don’t merit the blank nothingness with which he approaches every situation in life.
There are moments in A Screaming Man that feel on the brink of saying something true or profound, but these taper off more and more as the picture continues. It’s extremely well-intended and contains the broad strokes of a much better movie, but A Screaming Man’s inhuman characters lead to an unfortunate descent into clichés.