A Season in France: An asylum seeker's romance
by Vassilis Economou
- TORONTO 2017: In his first film shot in France, celebrated Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun delivers an intimate romantic drama that tackles the problems of today’s refugees
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is probably the most distinguished Chadian filmmaker. After beginning in 1999 with the Venice-awarded documentary Bye Bye Africa, he continued his rise to stardom by winning the Special Jury Prize at Venice with Daratt – Dry Season [+see also:
film profile] (2006). Four years later, he went home from Cannes with the much sought-after Jury Prize for A Screaming Man [+see also:
film profile]. His seventh feature, A Season in France [+see also:
interview: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
film profile], has had its world premiere in the Special Presentations section of the 42nd Toronto International Film Festival.
Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney) has for the past 19 months been living on the outskirts of Paris with his 12-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter. Along with his brother Etienne (Bibi Tanga), they all fled Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, after the outbreak of the civil war, during which Abbas’ wife was murdered. He used to be a high-school teacher and his brother a professor of Philosophy; now Abbas is working at the food market and Etienne as a security guard. Abbas still dreams of his wife, but in the meantime, he has met and is in a relationship with Carole (Sandrine Bonnaire), who’s trying to help him to overcome his traumas. After his request for political asylum is turned down, Abbas will need Carole’s support more than ever as his family faces the threat of deportation.
A Season in France is one of the most approachable and contemporary works by Haroun, who also wrote the screenplay. His filmography mainly comprises political dramas set in Chad, but this is his first drama shot in France. Instead of exploring the war or the reasons behind it, he focuses on the social aftermath of a civil conflict. Abbas is “simply” another refugee, a widower who needs to survive and feed his children. Regardless of his previous status and role in his homeland, he now has to face a different enemy that he cannot fight – the system is more powerful than him, and a court’s decision could literally force him into migration once again. This is what overwhelms his emotions, the inability to fight something that seems bigger and crueller than an actual war. It is only Carole who can save him, but even for her, the options are limited.
Haroun delivers a sensitive drama that is driven by its clear, linear narrative, and the tangible characters portrayed by Eriq Ebouaney (Kingdom of Heaven, The Horde [+see also:
film profile]) and acclaimed French actress Sandrine Bonnaire form a couple that need to support each other to win out over a reality that seems stronger than their love. The focus on their constant struggle at some points makes the story a little schematic, and there is a heavy melodramatic undertone that may seem overwhelming. But the drama is there, and quite relevant to today, as the movie addresses universal social issues that are not only limited to France.
A Season in France was produced by Florence Stern for Paris-based Pili Films, a regular partner on Haroun’s films, in co-production with Arte France Cinéma. The international sales are managed by MK2.
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