Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Une saison en France / A Season in France

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Country: France
Year: 2017
Duration: 1.40
In French.
    In the presence of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun hosted by Timo Malmi.
    DCP with English subtitles viewed at Cinema Lapinsuu, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 13 June 2018.

MSFF: "There have been many films made about refugees but the director has seldom had personal experience of the issue. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is an exception. Haroun fled the 1982 civil war in Chad by moving to France. It took over thirty years in his new home country for his first film to see the light of day. A Season in France is a warm but ruthless film about Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney), a French teacher that immigrates to France to escape the horrors of a civil war in a Central African Republic, with his two children and brother, Etienne (Bibi Tanga)."

"Haroun’s Paris is not the romantic tourist city people often associate it with, Haroun shows Paris through the eyes of an undocumented (illegal) political asylum seeker. Abbas’ and Etienne’s dignity is at stake as they struggle through jobs, accommodation and bureaucracy. Abbas sells vegetables at the market, while Etienne, a former philosophy teacher, works as a security guard at a pharmacy. Abbas and Etienne are pushed around by bureaucrats forcing Abbas and his children to relocate constantly, while Etienne is living in a shack. Things get even more complicated when Abbas falls in love with the French woman Caroline (Sandrine Bonnaire). Both men feel the sexual tension with the opposite sex as challenging for their male pride."

"Dreams and nightmares bring an interesting level to Haroun’s eloquent film, in which an emotional episode at Caroline’s birthday party with momentary happiness shows how things could be. Eric Ebouaney does an amazing performance in the role of Abbas and the au naturel Sandrine Bonnaire is unforgettable as Caroline. The story ends abruptly at the coast of Calais with the emotionally moving music score by Senegalese Wasis Diop playing in the background." (Timo Malmi)

AA: Connections emerge between films at festivals. Having just seen A Ghost Story it was rewarding to observe the ghost theme in A Season in France, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's new work, a film in which he is at his best.

The ghost in this film is that of Madeleine, the deceased wife of Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney) and the mother of his two little children. The forest nightmare sequence that opens the film is genuinely oneiric. Buñuel might have appreciated it. "Do the dead come back?" ask the children. "No, but it's important not to forget them". Abbas plays the children a recording of an African lullaby sung by their mother.

Abbas is physically in the grip of Madeleine's ghost. He has started a relationship with Carole (Sandrine Bonnaire) but cannot yet be as fully involved as Carole would like. "It's time to move on", thinks Carole. But at night Carole finds Abbas in the corridor, speaking with Madeleine's ghost, spastic in his agony.

Abbas and his brother Étienne who have fled a brutal civil war in Central Africa find it impossible to get asylum in France. Étienne gets so exhausted that he sets himself on fire at the court of asylum. Abbas, at the end of his wits, starts to act irrationally. He fails to observe deadlines of appeals. Losing his passport, it is not possible for him to marry Carole. He and his children become fugitives on the run also in France.

A Season in France is based on deeply felt experience. The texture of life is rich. The performances are superb not only in the leading roles but also in bit parts. For instance the sequences at the court of asylum are memorable. Each face in the waiting room tells a tale of pain.

The refugee brothers are intellectuals, articulate people forced to take any menial job they can get. In his farewell letter to Carole Abbas refers to the 1938 Évian conference. There is now a threat of a  disaster to what happened to European Jews who were refused asylum.

There are many memorable sequences in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's poetic film. Carole's birthday party. Étienne's illegal shack (later burnt by anti-emigrant vigilantes). Étienne's funeral in which a white butterfly rises to the air from the grave. The site of the "Calais refugee jungle", freshly razed by caterpillars.

Wasis Diop's score is rich and outstanding.

The film was so deeply moving that I cancelled my films for the rest of the day. I was not the only one. I heard of at least two others who had done the same thing.

After the film Mahamat-Saleh Haroun was introduced for a Q & A. We met an artist of great dignity and humanity full of concern for the future of mankind. Haroun reminded us that the history of humanity is that of movement. The first human beings are from Chad. We are all migrants. But now "I'm really very scared".

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