Published by Douglas Messerli, the World Cinema Review features full-length reviews on film from the beginning of the industry to the present day, but the primary focus is on films of intelligence and cinematic quality, with an eye to exposing its readers to the best works in international film history.
Haroun (writer and director) Grigris /
Haroun (writer and director) Bye Bye
Africa / 1999
likeable young dancer of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s 2013 feature, simply radiates
innocence in his gap-toothed smiles and the placidity with which he accepts
what comes his way. By night, Grigris (Souleymane Démé, despite a paralyzed
leg, dances up a storm in the local nightclub, entertaining the denizens with
his graceful moves. Each night they pass the hat so that Grigris will return
and might survive his difficult life.
day, shuffling across the, Chad landscape, Grigris works as a part-time
handyman and photographer for his step-father and his wealthy uncle nearby,
seemingly happy in his simple life. A visit from a local prostitute, Mimi
(Anaïs Monory) who wants photographs so that she might become a model, changes
For the shorter and crippled Grigris the
mountain of beautiful flesh that Mimi represents transforms him, as also does
the sudden emphysema plaguing his pipe-smoking step-father. It hardly seems to
matter to him that Mimi, nightly bedded by all the local criminal
entrepreneurs, is unavailable and out of his league. He becomes determined to
win her over with his daring dancing, rolling flames across his body, lifting
up his paralyzed leg to spin and dangle it in front of him almost like a sexual
Similarly, it seems to hardly bother him
to approach one of the underground criminals for a job. Lying about his ability
to swim, Grigris joins in a late-night raid of petrol drums, almost drowning
himself on the long police chase back to shore. He is threatened with being
fired, but begs to remain in the criminal’s employ as a driver so that he might
help in paying his step-father’s hospital bills.
After a highly successful collection of
canisters of gas, wherein Grigris outwits the chasing police, he is welcomed
into the criminal coven, but soon after betrays his boss by absconding with a
shipment and selling it to his uncle, who showers him with much-needed money.
Although he has claimed he has been stopped and beaten by the police, the
criminal sends out his henchman to beat and torture Grigris, demanding that he
return the missing gas within three days. In blood-spattered attire, Grigris
hides out Mimi’s, staying the night while she is out servicing her clients.
She too is slugged for her complicity with
Grigris, and both are threatened with death. Amazingly, however, these two lost
souls—nearly destroyed by the city society in which they live—seek to escape to
the country, a small native village where a close friend of Mimi’s has
previously taken refuge. Pregnant and repentant about her past Mimi arrives
with Grigris in the village, where all the men are away on a long hunt. Grigris
claims Mimi is his wife, and convinces her he care for her and her child,
despite her lurid past.
The native women of the clearly
matriarchal society, moreover, immediately take a liking to this scarecrow of a
man, who is clearly entranced by Mimi and who deals well with their children.
They bring platters of basic food stuffs—beans, fruits, vegetables, and
nuts—celebrating the couple for having selected their small village as a new home,
a place to renew their lives.
As one might expect, however, the past is
slowly catching up as the criminal henchman drives by the village, finally
stopping with intent of killing Grigris. Mimi, witnessing the attack shouts for
the woman of the village, who miraculously come running, with homemade whips
and clubs, surrounding the henchman and, when he refuses to release Grigris,
kill him, burning his body up in his car, and pledging to one another complete
silence about the event.
Although it may be a bit difficult to
imagine that this former dancer and whore will be able to spend the rest of
their lives in this rustic world, director Haroun suggests it is a necessary
choice, and way to escape the infamy of contemporary Chadian life by returning
to the past. And in that sense this film is a kind of romantic fantasy which
allows for the greatness of Chadian past.
similar relationship between past a present was apparent already in Haroun’s
first film of 1999, Bye Bye Africa,
the second of two movies I saw last night in LAMA’s film series, “Caméras
d’Afrique: The Fiilms of West Africa.
Presented as a kind autobiographical
documentary (although Haroun admitted that, unlike his central character, his
mother still lives). the work beings with the death of his mother, the director
returning to N’Djamena with the intent of making a film he will dedicate to
her. Having lived for years now in France, the director is shocked to see just
how derelict the city, its film houses, and the whole industry has become. Not
only to his ready aphorisms, based on statements by Jean-Luc Goddard, no longer
seem plausible in his homeland, but he meets, in many cases, with absolute
hostility for “capturing the image of his would-be actors.” In this financially
savaged society, reality is confused with imaginative writing. A former actress
with he has worked, Stéphane Legoux, is presumed to have AIDS because she has
played a character who did in his movie. Her life, he discovers, has been
destroyed by his film-making, and even his former film-making friends, are
convinced that there is no longer any way in a country where films are only
shown in small rooms for members of the film clubs to get funding for their
Despite these impossibilities, however,
Haroun does motorcycle across the city catching the faces of its people and the
pace of their daily activities. Despite its dereliction, it is obviously still
a world which the director loves. But, as the film suggests, you can’t go home
again. In this world, at least, as Ghana writer Chinua Achebe put it, “things
fall apart.” Haroun is forced to return to the European continent to create his
But there may be hope, nonetheless, for
the future, as a young boy whom Haroun has taken on as a kind of assistant, is
delighted with the camera Haroun has left behind, the boy running after the
fleeing director to catch the final images of this touching film.