Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's quietly moving drama Daratt ("Dry Season") concerns itself with the tough acts of forgiveness that must occur for a society to reconcile itself after war. In keeping with these themes and in spite of the emotionally charged subject matter, the storytelling is slow and patient with little dialogue. The camera observes the action impassively, letting the characters reveal their humanity, with clean sharp framing highlighted by the yellow-brown colors of the central African desert and savanna. The story begins at the village of Abéché in Chad. A radio announces that all war criminals from the recently ended civil war will be granted amnesty, sparking riots in the streets. Atim Ali Barkai and his grandfather (Khavar Oumar Defallah) seethe with anger. The grandfather gives him a revolver and tells him to travel to the capital city of N'Djamena to avenge his father's death. He discovers that his father's killer Nassara ($Youssouf Djaoro) now runs a bread shop, Boulangerie Nassara, and watches as he distributes free loaves to war orphans living on the streets outside his shop. After struggling to adapt to the city life, Atim is offered a job and lodging with Nassara. The war veteran teaches him how to break bread and emphasizes that it needs to be made with love to be good. Their relationship develops along uneasy father-son lines. They communicate mostly through body language and not words. (Nassara's throat was slit during the war and he has to speak through a mechanical larynx.) Nassara has a violent temper and appears to know that Atim wants to kill him. He encourages the boy to become an observant Muslim but Atim snaps back, "Going to the mosque won't redeem you." When Nassara's wife miscarries their baby, he asks to adopt Atim. But the young man still feels the need to return to his grandfather, who is waiting for news of Nassara's death. Though working with the simple elements of a fable, Haroun's confident storytelling brings great strength in describing how the different generations will deal with and move forward from their anger and pain. The film was commissioned and produced in conjunction with the New Crowned Hope Festival, organized by Peter Sellars, as part of Vienna's celebrations for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 250th birthday.
by Craig Butler review