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Home Vision Entertainment presents
Abouna (2002)

"Nothing's more important than freedom." 
- Tahir (Ahidja Mahamat Moussa)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: September 02, 2005

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:24m:12s
Release Date: May 17, 2005
UPC: 037429206027
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-A- B-

DVD Review

This is a delicate, compassionately told movie, one which in less capable hands might spill over into the realm of the precious or the patronizing. But director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun tells a spare story in a restrained style, and gets his audience to empathize with his characters; in the process, we learn more about life in Chad, simply incidentally, than from any Western news outlet, which makes time for life in Africa only in instances of extreme violence, weather or slaughter.

The story focuses on two brothers: Amine, the younger one, has terrible asthma; Tahir, the older one, at 15 is on the cusp of manhood, an issue further complicated by the recent departure of their father. The boys hold out hope that the father is to return; but the looks on their faces, and the behavior of their mother, Achta, communicate to us that this nuclear family is never to be reunited again. The boys set out on a quest to find him, taking them to the Chad/Cameroon border; he never turns up, but they do unearth some of his secrets.

Soon the unruliness of the boys turns to petty criminality—they steal a reel of film from the local movie theater—and they're too much to handle: Achta reluctantly but necessarily takes her boys to a nearby Koran school, part orphanage, part juvie. Her own despair and decline is even more marked than those of her sons; the fact that we never see the family together only makes the sense of loss and deprivation that much more pungent and universal for us.

This is no mere travelogue, but it is filled with fascinations about the lives of those in such a rural African community; the poverty isn't desperate, and sometimes there's even running water. Still, many of those seen here have a deadness in their eyes, the look of hopelessness that we know won't be redeemed any time soon, and certainly not before the movie is over.

Tahir and Amine chafe at the constraints of the Koran school, and plan a jailbreak; the story takes a shattering turn (which I will not disclose here), but it makes the last twenty minutes of the picture almost an afterthought. Comparisons with other films are inevitable, and this one holds its own creditably; it may put you in mind particularly of the great Pather Panchali, putting Haroun in rarified company indeed. It's a heartbreaking movie, in lots of ways, but demonstrates enough artistry to leave you with almost as much hope as despair. 

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Strong transfer, with a steady palette and little visual interference.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Chad Arabicyes
Dolby Digital
Chad Arabicyes

Audio Transfer Review: Smooth sailing here, too, though unless your Arabic is especially well polished, you'll probably be reading along with the subtitles.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. two short films by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
  2. accompanying booklet with an essay by Phil Hall
Extras Review: In an accompanying interview (22m:40s), director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun discusses his childhood and education, and provides some useful cultural context for his feature. Two short films, also on the disc, give a sense of the evolution of his style—Goï Goï (14m:40s) works on the same canvas, though it's more lighthearted; B400 (03m:03s) is set in Paris, and demonstrates Haroun's affinity for and empathy with children. In an essay that comes along with the DVD, Phil Hall goes all over-the-top fanboy on us, calling this, among other things, "a perfect film," when, really, there's no such thing.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

A heartfelt and memorable story from a part of the world that doesn't often make it up on the movie screen.


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