Bordeaux-based Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is happy to be part of a “filmmaking gang.” It is, he says, “the only way you change things, build things.” He explains that his current film, Abouna, about two young boys abandoned by their father in Chad, is in direct conversation with the meditative work of his friend and producer, Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako. “I call them ‘letter films,’ ” he says, “films that answer each other. If you look at Sissako’s Waiting for Happiness, the father in Abouna could be there.”
Born in 1961, Haroun arrived in France in 1982 after taking the Trans-Siberian train from China, where he, his diplomat father, and their family lived for a year following their escape from civil-war-torn Chad. Though Haroun cites Abbas Kiarostami as his current polestar, he acknowledges that Abouna‘s take on abandonment bears the imprint of French film, from The 400 Blows to Time Out. Like Kiarostami, Haroun uses fiction only as a framework. But capturing real life also means conjuring the trickery of memory and desire.
Abouna‘s brothers wear the same clothes throughout the film because, Haroun explains, “I work with these colors to build the memory in a short amount of time. So it becomes not only the color but the guy. The orange is a vibrant color. The blue is very sane. The younger is fiery, trying to push everything. And the other one controls his passions.” The repetition also suggests, he says, “a jail where everybody has the same clothes year in year out.”
Having explored his own ties to home and issues of mobility in his earlier, quasi-documentary Bye Bye Africa, Haroun explains the jump from that movie’s DV to Abouna‘s film stock: “Bye Bye Africa was just an idea of asking my own reality if it’s possible to, in these conditions—no money, no crew, no industry—if it is possible to continue to make movies. And the answer is Abouna.”
Michael Atkinson’s review of Abouna