Hissein Habre, a Chadian Tragedy (2016)

An essential African documentary about the brutality of Habre’s regime as recalled by Chadian survivors seeking justice and closure from the unimaginable trauma that they continue to suffer decades after. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,396

Dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
2016 | Chad | Documentary | 79 mins | 1.85:1 | French & Arabic
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some disturbing references to violence and torture

Plot: In 2013 former Chadian dictator Hissein Habré’s arrest marked the end of a long combat for the survivors of his regime. Accompanied by the Chairman of the Association of the Victims of the Habré’ Regime, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun goes to meet those who survived this tragedy to document these events.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Eye (Cannes)
International Sales: The Party Film Sales

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature – Dictatorship; Torture; Brutality
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

I’ll be honest.  I haven’t heard of the dictator Hissein Habre until I chanced upon Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s documentary on MUBI. 

I had earlier seen one of his features, A Screaming Man (2010), which gave me a taste of Chadian narrative cinema; in this documentary, you’ll get to listen to the testimonies of survivors of Habre’s brutal regime. 

With many innocent Chadians arrested, sadistically tortured and killed during the harrowing eight-year reign of Habre from 1982 to 1990, this was one of the country’s darkest periods in its history. 

The fact that the US and France were complicit in supporting and providing military resources to Habre (against Gaddafi’s Libya during the Cold War) is a great irony. 

“As a man, I’m diminished.  There are no words strong enough to qualify this horror.”

Haroun’s approach is simple—he interviews a few victims as they recount the unimaginable trauma that they continue to suffer decades after being liberated. 

In some segments, Haroun brings victims and perpetrators (who worked in Habre’s infamous secret police known as the DDS) together in hopes of seeking forgiveness and reconciliation.  These were common men who knew each other but took different paths during the regime. 

Like all documentaries about atrocities committed by a political system headed by a cruel, power-hungry dictator, Hissein Habre, a Chadian Tragedy is sobering and eye-opening, and I must say, essential viewing, particularly if certain African histories are far removed from what you might already know about general world history. 

Habre died from Covid-19 last year whilst serving a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

Grade: A-


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