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Sober and upsetting

With striking sobriety, the documentary Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy, tells of the little-known abuses that took place under the rule of the despot Habré.
in Chad.  

Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy
Directed by: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

"We must achieve justice so that one day we can cry for our dead," says Clément Abaïfouta in Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy.

The South Documentary Film (also shown at Bergen International Film Festival last month) tells of the many human rights violations committed in Chad under Hissein Habré, who was president of the country from 1982 to 1990. This is part of Africa's history that has not received much attention in the world, despite the fact that tens of thousands of people have lost their lives under his extremely brutal rule.

screen-shot-2016-10-12-at-16-25-33In the West's eyes, Gaddafi in Libya was the major enemy of the African continent, while Habré and his dreaded secret police were reportedly supported by both France and the United States.

In 2015, Habré was finally brought to justice in a special court in Senegal, accused of crimes against humanity, which the first African despot held accountable for his actions in a trial supported by the African Union. This led to the man who has been referred to as "Africa's Pinochet" in May this year being sentenced to life in prison for sexual slavery, torture and for ordering the murder of 40 people.

Portraying the victims. The same month that this verdict fell, had Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy premiere at this year's edition of the Cannes Film Festival. However, the film does not devote so much space to the trial itself, but instead focuses on some of its proponents, in the form of a support organization for the many victims of the regime's abuse.

The documentary is built up as a series of selected portraits of these people, which tell in-depth about the atrocities they have been exposed to, and are constantly both physically and mentally affected by. They do this partly in camera, but to a greater extent in conversations with the aforementioned Clément Abaïfouta, who himself is one of the victims and who acts as a kind of narrator and "director" in the film.

The man who has been referred to as "Africa's Pinochet" was sentenced to life in prison for sexual slavery, torture and for ordering the murder of 40 people.

One of these conversations also involves one of the perpetrators, where Abaïfouta assumes the role of moderator between this elderly man and one of them abused. The scene makes it particularly clear how difficult it can be to achieve the desired reconciliation, as the former policeman's experimental regret is consistently supplemented with an insistence that he only followed orders.

Simple construction. With their detailed descriptions of systematic and bestial abuses by dictatorial governments Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy some in common with the documentaries T og The Look of Silence, which dealt with the communist hunt in Indonesia in the 60s. Most similar to the latter of the two, where director Joshua Oppenheimer changed his perspective from abusers to victims. But there in particular T creates an effective dynamic between the perpetrators' staging of their past misdeeds and the reactions this arouses in them as they are filmed, is Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy simpler in its construction, and in a way more direct in its approach.

Not least, it is marked by a strikingly sober and sober conveyance of a very outrageous content – a description that so far also fits with Oppenheimer's films. Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who previously directed the feature film A man screaming (2010), wisely relies on the testimonies of the film to be strong enough in its own right, and avoids excessive use of narrative tools to further control the audience's emotions – which presumably could work against their intent.

Necessary searchlight. It may be objected that the film occasionally provides little background information, both about Habré's regime and about the people we meet. Especially considering that this debilitating chapter in recent African history, as mentioned earlier, has received far too little attention in our part of the world. But there is just as much a not insignificant force in the film choosing to go straight to the point, and only presents the story of Habré briefly and very concisely initially. The film's main concern is commendable enough to allow its victims to be heard – and there is little doubt that it is an important contribution to directing a necessary light to this national tragedy. Then others will follow up and tell in more detail about what made it possible.

And hopefully, both this documentary and the conviction of Hissein Habré will help the many affected in Chad to finally cry for their dead.

The film will be shown on Thursday 13 October at 20.00:XNUMX book tickets here.

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Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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