A True Story From Nature

in 8th International Film Festival of Kerala

by Necati Sönmez

No wonder that nowadays Islamic issues are under the spotlight more then ever. Because of either the filmmakers’ tendency to turn their camera to current issues or the selective perception of the festival programmers, many films dealing with muslim societies have arrived for us to see. A short glimpse at the selection of the 8th International Film Festival of Kerala can give us an idea. Looking through the framework of the festival, those films can be classified into certain categories:

1. Films trying to portray their characters basicly through the Islamic way of living, customs, beliefs, etc. as in “The Clay Bird” (Matir Moina) by Tareque Masud from Bangladesh or in “Lesson One: A Wail” (Padam Onnu: Oru Vilapam) by T.V. Chandran from India.

2. Films that use the Islamic identity as one of the the main components of the story but trying to go beyond it, like “Silent Waters” (Khamosh Pani) by Sabiha Sumar from Pakistan; or though it belongs to a very different genre, like “Maqbool” by Vishal Bharadwaj from India, a very elegant action film which links the mafia world to a particular community.

3. Films digging out the mores of society itself no matter what its religious or cultural bases, as is very well done by Siddiq Barmak in “Osama”, a story related to current life in Afghanistan.

4. Films that merely take place in a muslim environment without any direct reference to the community, like the universal story of “Abouna” (Our Father) by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun from Chad.

Classifying all these films is not totally fair since they diverge from each other considerably, yet they do have things in common. Except “Abouna” they all come from core of Asia, most of them deal with Quranic schools at certain points, and hint at the oppression of women.

Strange Kids In Search Of Their Lost Paradise

“Abouna” has a Quranic school too, but it has nothing to do with the global agenda. On one level, it tells a story about teenagers living anywhere and in any time. It’s a universal yet very African tale; the story of two brothers trying to cope with the sudden hole that appears in their life when their father suddenly disappears. It is also a picture of a small town in any poor country. While the kids wander around desperately seeking their father, we too stroll to various corners of the town, watching life go by and discovering the world that surrounds the two main characters.

Apart from following a coming of age story, in “Abouna” we see friendship, loneliness, economic difficulties, love, sorrow, and death… and all are contained by a slight story. The film’s strength comes from its simplicity; the story is not complicated, the dialogue is minimal, the camera movements are discreet, the characters, the cinematography, the lighting are very plain. It is like an homage to the pure — and poor — cinema. A true story from nature, like the book “True Stories From Nature”, in which a little boy find the peace of sleeping. When he asks for it to be read for the last time, he wants to stay awake in order to hear the final lines. The tale ends up in an unexpected way, and so does the film. But still there is love which always means hope…

By reversing the story, one can say that “Abouna” somehow recalls Andrey Zvyagintsev’s “The Return” (Vozvraschenie) – while the first deals with the sudden disappearance of the father, the latter’s theme is his sudden appearance. Yet there are older peers: Like the films whose posters we see briefly outside the only film theater in Chad — of Chaplin’s “The Kid” and Jarmusch’s “Stranger Then Paradise”. Strange kids in search of their lost paradise… An orphan society looking for its future. Because the theme of the absent father can also be considered as an allegory about the whole of Africa – a black continent seemingly abandoned by the God.