Inevitably, coming from an African nation that doesn’t have its own movie industry, it’s a challenge for any director to make films in a country without trained technical crews, professional actors or even any movie theatres. As he has demonstrated in his previous films Bye Bye Africa and Abouna however, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun has deep personal and political issues that need to be expressed about his home nation of Chad, a country still reeling from a long and violent civil war which saw some 40,000 killed or disappear under the rule of Hissène Habré. The director’s filmmaking education in France allows for a reflective and accessible approach to the subject in Daratt.
It’s this the aftermath of this war and its impact upon the nation that is directly confronted from the outset when it is announced on the radio that the Commission for Truth and Justice has offered an amnesty to those involved in crimes committed during the civil war in an effort to put the horrors of the war years behind them and start the country moving forward again. It’s an unacceptable verdict for many people, and one that leads to further violence and trouble against the authorities, but there are also others who have more personal matters they wish to see settled definitively. Urged by his grandfather, 16 year-old Atim (Ali Barkai) travels to the big city with a gun to find the man who killed his father and see justice done.
Disregarding the political context and African setting, the set-up of Daratt (‘Dry Season’) is classic revenge movie material, where a young man will stop at nothing to see justice done in a world that doesn’t care, but even within this formulaic plot-line - and there are other familiar elements to be found as the story progresses - Mahamat-Saleh Haroun manages to find ways to make the story meaningful and compelling. Even viewing the treatment in a new context in an exotic and evocative setting as the deserts of Chad brings an air of austerity and purpose to the story, one that is lent further conviction by the sparse dialogue and underplayed performances by a cast of non-professional but deeply intense actors.
Rather than express their situation and feelings through words and exposition, the film rather brings the characters together in a manner that allows an incredibly tense situation to develop between them. Atim’s intended victim moreover is not painted as an out-and-out villain. Suffering himself from personal injuries sustained during the war, Nassara (Youssouf Djaoro) now runs a bakery, gives out bread to the poor who gather outside the door of his boulangerie, and goes regularly to the local mosque. Seeing Atim outside and mistaking his glowering defiance for pride, he offers the young man a job at the bakery, teaching him to make bread and welcoming him into his home – even if he is not pleased by how close Atim becomes to his wife. The justness of Atim’s vigilante cause is also put into question – he’s young, reckless and a bit of a thug, taking advantage of Nassara’s hospitality until the moment he feels he is ready to pull the trigger on him. The longer he waits however, the closer he becomes to Nassara – will Atim be able to kill a man he has come to know for the sake of a father who died before he was even born?
If that were all that constituted the central dilemma of the film, Daratt would still be rather conventional and not particularly original. Even if it is one that is extremely good at playing out the central conflict between the main characters, it’s a familiar situation that has been explored in a similar way by the Dardenne Brothers in The Son to even greater effect. The sizing up of these two men in uncomfortably close proximity to each other doesn’t suggest machismo and bravado as much as a mistrust of the other person and oneself, unwilling to confront the real issues that lie beneath. That issue is certainly related to the Dardenne’s exploration of the nature of fatherhood, but in Mahamat-Saleh’s film that search for trust, direction and leadership can be applied to the wider context within Chad, within Africa and even a wider social context. More than just a revenge film, the issues it raises question the accepted standards of what is meant by justice, and whether history, the past and misdirected anger can best be put aside towards reconciliation rather than merely perpetuate the cycle of violence.
Daratt is released in the UK by Soda Pictures. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is Region 2 encoded.
Well up to Soda’s exceptional standards, the transfer on Daratt is hard to fault. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, with anamorphic enhancement and is progressively encoded, so it ticks all the boxes for optimum technical specifications. The image however is also impressive in terms of colour saturation, tone, definition and texture. Colours and skin tones in particular show good gradation and detail. The transfer is stable throughout and there re no signs of edge enhancement or of macrocompression artefacting. The print itself is also completely free from any marks or dustspots, with only a touch of softness showing in some long shots. This is scarcely an issue when every other aspect of the image and its transfer are about as good as you could expect to see on a Standard Definition DVD.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is excellent with sound and dialogue strong and clear. Stereo separation is also good, providing a wider surround spectrum on certain occasions.
English subtitles are provided for the film and are in a clear white font which is well positioned and readable at all times.
The DVD includes some fine, informative and interesting extra features. A Director’s Q&A (41:39) is filmed at a UK festival preview showing of the film. The film is introduced by the festival programmer and there is a post-screening Q&A with the director. In this Mahamat-Saleh Haroun talks in English (with no subtitle option) about why he makes movies, where Daratt came from, how it was funded and developed and how it fits in with themes in his other film work. The Theatrical Trailer (1:33) sets up the story and themes well, giving a good indication of the nature and colour of the conflict within the film. Three Deleted Scenes (5:24) are included, letterboxed and timecoded, but good quality nonetheless. An obligatory commentary by the editor and director in French is subtitled, explaining the intentions and why they were cut. Trailers for other Soda releases are also included.
Daratt takes an old story and conventional movie genre theme and gives the revenge plot a new twist by placing it in the context of the aftermath of the civil war in Chad. More than just providing an exotic setting for a familiar treatment, director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun manages to draw smaller, personal details out of the nature of father/son relationships in the film and apply it in a wider and political context, making Daratt an intelligent film as well as a tense thriller. Soda Pictures’ DVD release is outstanding in terms of quality of the transfer and for the fine selection of informative supplemental features included.