Dir.: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Showcase: London Film Festival
Brace yourselves, as Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s poignant documentary delves rather quickly into a meeting between the torturer and the tortured. The meeting between a man who was imprisoned by Hissein Habré’s – former Chadian president – regime and the soldier that tortured him is a quest for and indeed a conversation on forgiveness, reconciliation, justice, healing and understanding. These themes reappear throughout the film as several victims of the regime’s excesses recount their ordeals and exhibit the scars – both physical and emotional – that remain in the Central African country.
Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy journeys at a pace that not only reflects the often featured arid landscapes but also allows the audience to empathise with its subjects and more appropriately, to witness their full humanity as well as their agency. As the documentary’s subjects narrate the injustices they faced, that slow pace becomes the tool through which the audience digests the horrors that unravelled during the 8 years of Habré’s rule in which 40,000 people are said to have been killed.
Clément Abaïfouta acts as the conduit through which the documentary’s narrative unfolds as he interviews former prisoners of the regime. Clément Abaïfouta is also the chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime. Further to his interviews, his narration of the psychological effects of his own imprisonment leaves you in no doubt that you are seeing a man whose personality and possibly, sense of himself, have been diminished by his experiences.
Allowing for raw emotions to be distilled through the audience’s consciousness, there is a noticeable lack of music in the documentary. The soundtrack, instead, consists mostly of the background noise of both the urban and rural settings that the subjects inhabit, and the film bathes in the browns and greens that are ever present in the Chadian landscape.
Hissein Habré, is prize winning director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s fourth documentary and his first film since the Palme d’Or nominated, Grigris. The film definitely deserves its place on the 2016 BFI London Film Festival line up where it was screened as part of the Debate gala.
Overall, this is an engaging film that makes the viewer ponder the nature of forgiveness and the pursuit of justice, before culminating in an event that became a first in Africa and a first in world history.