Daratt

Issue section: 
(316)

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Release date: 27 July

Haroun's multi-award winning film focuses on a brief period in the life of Chad teenager Atim. His name, meaning orphan, suggests that he has better reasons than most to be an angry young man. Orphaned in Chad's 40-year civil war, he grew up with a grandfather embittered by the loss of his son.

When the national Truth and Justice Commission announces an amnesty for war criminals, Atim is given his father's long unused gun and, encouraged by his grandfather, sets out from his impoverished village to find and assassinate his father's killer.

However, Atim's quest is not straightforward. Against a backdrop of the casual violence of arrogant and brutish gun toting soldiers, Haroun's subtle tale of morality offers no easy solutions to the issues of revenge, truth and justice for ordinary people in post civil war situations.

The slow pace and minimal dialogue of Daratt encourage the viewer to reflect on the unspoken questions it poses, and on the complexity of human relations and motives.

What would make Atim more of a man - to shoot or reprieve his father's killer, Nassara? Would justice be served if Atim punishes Nassara for an extreme crime committed in extreme circumstances? Or should Nassara be allowed to continue his new life as a modest baker who distributes free bread to the city's poor? (Does justice demand bread or guns?) And isn't Nassara - whose throat was slit in the war and who speaks through an amplifying gadget - himself a victim of war?

Haroun does not present a romanticised Third World location for a Western audience, but a stark ordinariness that demands engagement with the unfolding story. It is unlikely that the Western audience for Daratt (Dry Season) will include George Bush and Tony Blair. But those seduced by their Manichean view of a global clash between good and evil would do well to consider Nassara.

The one time murderer turned alms-giving baker is a devout Muslim. Understandably, he regrets some of his past actions, while occasional glimpses of his suppressed rage remind us that he remains imperfect. But his otherwise dignified and placid behaviour suggests that, like Atim, Nassara's capacity for good and bad is powerfully shaped by his circumstances. It is hard not to conclude that Haroun's unspoken concern is that Western leaders' behaviour and decisions are more conducive to social pathologies and chaos than social solidarity and progress.

This may be reading too much into Daratt, but Haroun is to be congratulated for making a film that allows us to consider these matters free from trivialising distractions.