" You’re not even a has-been, you’re a never-was "
The Replacements

MRQE Top Critic

Noi Albinoi

Mystery and ambivalence about this Bleak portrait of isolation are amplified on DVD —Marty Mapes (DVD review...)

Noi the Albino spends winter in Iceland alone

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Have you ever seen a film made in Chad? Me neither, at least until A Screaming Man, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes this spring, came to DFF.

Times They Are A-Changin’

Adam will have to atone for his sins
Adam will have to atone for his sins

A father and son (Youssouf Djaoro and Dioucounda Koma) manage a pool at a hotel. They teach classes, they dispense towels, they close it up at night... they nurture it. For Adam, the father, a former swimming champion, it’s been his life for three decades. His son Abdel is following in his footsteps.

Gossip has it that the hotel is going to be privatized soon, which could mean layoffs for the loyal and aging staff. Adam is old friends with the gatekeeper and the cook, also from “Champ’s” generation.

Not that I claim to understand the political and cultural workings of Chad, but in this movie, Abdel is of an age to be conscripted into the army. Adam is able to pay a man to keep his son from having to join, but the man accepting the bribe is not an army official. Somehow he has some sway.

With the film’s dominoes lined up, the movie proceeds to knock them down. The hotel is indeed sold, and there are layoffs among Adam and his friends. Adam isn’t able to keep up on his payments and Abdel is drafted. Abdel’s girlfriend shows up, pregnant, and civil unrest inches closer to the city.

A Screaming Man raised some interesting thoughts about committing your life to something you don’t control. Adam has spent his life cultivating goodwill for a company that he has no stake in. The realization that the company could “betray” you is a shock. Likewise, those inducted into the army are asked to make a sacrifice for an organization and a country that don’t necessarily have the best interest of the individual at the top of their list.

The movie also makes much of sullen silences. People with important things to say somehow never manage to spit them out. Perhaps this is just one more mistake Chadians — and all of us — need to work hard to overcome.

Snail’s Pace

I’m not sure if I liked A Screaming Man because, like so many imports I saw at festivals this year, it is very slow paced with a very subtle story arc. The characters are well rounded and well acted. In particular, Adam is flawed in a way that you suspect without being able to believe. The film’s conclusion has to do with Adam’s atonement for that flaw.

Yet I found myself comparing A Screaming Man unfavorably to two other films at Denver this year, one American and one Norwegian. In both Casino Jack and A Somewhat Gentle Man, I found myself marveling at how densely packed they were. In both, there were short, one-minute scenes that almost felt like tangents, yet every one of those scenes did something for the movie, whether adding depth to a character, coloring their environment, or pushing the plot forward.

I found A Screaming Man (along with many other festival films this year) to be sparse and slow, with the spaces not filled by cinema, nor poetry, but just empty space. This coming from someone who actually likes minimalism in film.

The jury at Cannes saw something they liked. And there are parts of A Screaming Man that I liked too. But I’d have a hard time awarding it a prize over something with more to say.