Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s debut film is a peculiar hybrid of drama and documentary. Haroun, playing a semi-fictionalized version of himself, returns from France to his homeland Chad upon hearing of his mother’s passing. While there, he bemoans a crumbling local cinema and ponders creating a film to capture the spirit of his home nation.
Bye Bye Africa is a scruffy, uneven film. Its construction is very prosaic, such that we can see Haroun learning his craft on the fly. The acting is extremely stiff and amateurish, making the film’s more dramatic bits feel deaden.
The worst segment is a fictional thread about an old flame of Haroun’s, an actress who has been ostracized for appearing in a controversial film. While I appreciated the film’s honesty about the public perception of AIDS in Chad, the segment felt falsely melodramatic. Haroun, otherwise a neutral and generous observer, succumbs to a horny male gaze.
That said, the film is overall quite urgent and compelling due to the unique documentary footage of urban Chad. It’s a corner of the world I’ve never spent time in, and I found myself completely gripped by the details of everyday life — the meals, the busy streets, the playing kids, the hopping nightlife, etc. It’s vibrant, but tinged with poverty and government suppression, as armed soldiers routinely flag cars and citizens for identification.
There’s also a core emotional element of a filmmaker reckoning with cinema dying in his homeland that always feels honest and mournful.
Ultimately, my main takeaway from Bye Bye Africa is that it has totally unique perspective worth sharing, and for that alone, I’m glad I watched.
Nearly Good (4/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.