Abouna (2002)

There is a kind of wide-eyed charm in seeing Haroun’s accessible early effort unfold as two boys try to find their missing father who inexplicably leaves the family one day.   

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,526

Dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
2002 | Chad | Drama | 84 mins | 1.85:1 | Arabic & French
Not rated – likely to be PG for some brief nudity

Cast: Ahidjo Mahamat Moussa, Hamza Moctar Aguid, Zara Haroun, Mounira Khalil
Plot: Two boys awake one morning to find that their father has abandoned their family.
Awards: Nom. for C.I.C.A.E. Award (Cannes)
International Sales: MK2

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Siblings Relationship; Absent Father
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

My exploration of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s cinema has now taken me to one of his earliest efforts, Abouna, which means ‘Our Father’ in Arabic.  Although he had made shorts and hybrid documentaries since the mid-1990s, Abouna was his first attempt at pure fiction. 

Selected as Chad’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Haroun’s work is a modest if accessible take on the contemporary coming-of-age genre, showing that African cinema can also be a ready contributor of stories about children who must grow up sooner than later. 

“What is irresponsibility?”

Here, the catalyst comes in the form of a missing father, who inexplicably leaves his family one day.  Haroun doesn’t really want us to care too much about the ‘why’ of things; instead, the focus is on two boys who do what they can to try to locate their Dad. 

In a sequence that reminds of Zhang Yimou’s much later One Second (2020), they attempt to steal a reel of film after seeing an image of their father in the cinema.  Whether it is really their father or a hallucinatory ‘father figure’, we don’t know for sure.  Once again, Haroun doesn’t really want us to dwell too much on these things. 

As such, his narrative flows like a clear river—there is a kind of wide-eyed charm in seeing Abouna unfold, though it is not without its moments of melodrama.  As the story takes unexpected turns, we are reminded of the fragility of life and the importance of having someone we can rely on and trust.

Grade: B+


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