Director: Mahamat Saleh Haroun
A Screaming Man was the winner of the Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. I first saw it five years later as part of a course on 21st century world cinema. It was not only the first Chadian film I’d ever seen, but the first I’d seen from any African country at all. The realisation that I’d been neglecting an entire continent’s worth of filmmaking was one of the main reasons I decided to start this challenge, so in a sense this film is why this blog exists.
A Screaming Man follows the story of Adam – the middle-aged pool attendant for a foreign-owned hotel in the Chadian capital N’Djamena. Adam is a former swimming champion, and is still known as “Champ” to his friends, but those days are long behind him and his position is now all that gives him a sense of self worth. The pool is Adam’s domain – an oasis for which he is solely responsible and a source of great pride.
But when the hotel has a change of management Adam is demoted to gate security, and his son Abdel is given charge of the swimming pool instead. Devastated, Adam is forced to choose which is more valuable to him – his job or his son. That choice may seem easy, but to Adam the pool is an obsession. The status it confers on him is intoxicating, and it represents the last remaining link to the achievements of his youth. Ultimately, that intoxication leads Adam to make an unthinkable choice that threatens to destroy his family.
Adam is a man desperate to find meaning in his life after his dreams of athletic glory have faded. This is a figure I’ve seen twice before in African films on this blog. Most recently, it was the ex-footballer Mané from Dribbling Fate (Cape Verde), who similarly clings to his past sporting success until it risks tearing his family apart. And before that, I wrote about the aspiring boxer Salvador from Feguibox (Equatorial Guinea), who struggles to reconcile his dreams of Olympic gold with his impoverished lifestyle. Passion and ambition are so often romanticised in Western cinema, but these three films deal with the unpleasant consequences of that passion when it turns into obsession. A Screaming Man is the story of a man whose selfishness and pride is his undoing, but impressively makes him a figure of the audience’s pity rather than loathing.