A Lyrical Take on Chad’s Missing Dads


Lyrical and stoic, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Abouna is set on the western frontier of Chad and focused on the vacuum left by vanishing fathers. Fifteen-year-old Tahir (Ahidjo Mahamat Moussa) and eight-year-old Amine (Hamza Moctar Aguid) are two brothers who wake up to find their dad’s bed empty and their mother (Zara Haroun, no relation) not talking. It’s a universalized setup—in Africa as elsewhere, fathers often leave to find work in neighboring countries, find none, and in shame, never return—but Haroun, a Chad native educated in Paris, goes for a dry mix of Kiarostamian simplicity and the Iranian master’s cine-reflexivity. The boys go to the cinema, and from the movie their father greets them, compelling the pair to later steal the print—rolling it back home like a stray bicycle wheel—and scour it for physical proof of the experience. It’s a doomed mission, of course, and the search for paternal connection eventually leads the brothers to the Cameroon border and other fruitless landscapes in the mist. Throughout, Chad is affectionately visualized as an Eden of tropical colors and sun-dappled glades; this isn’t the dusty sub-Saharan west of Sembene or Cisse. The journey, however pessimistic, is like a gentle handshake. The DVD comes with an interview with the director, and two of his earlier shorts, Goï Goï (1995) and B 400 (1998).