Chadian director, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun offers us a necessary and political insight into asylum, Europe and family ties. From Bangui to Paris, brothers Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney) and Etienne (Bibi Tanga) escape their country where they both worked as teachers to a new life in a country where they must take jobs as grocers and security guards. Abbas struggles to let go of his old life, speaking to the ghosts of his past but with his son (Ibrahim Burama Darboe) and daughter (Alayna Lys) in tow, he must make ends meet.
We drop in on the family after 19 months of living in France. Abbas has fallen in love with Frenchwoman, Carole (Sandrine Bonnaire) and seems to be consistently met with hoops and red tape in which to jump. “There’s no place for us in France” Abbas laments as his application for Asylum is rejected. The family are caught in a geographical halfway house, they see Africa as an illusion, responsible for the death of Abbas’ wife and have fled to a country that seemingly wants to throw them straight back.
Haroun’s relevant and timely tale of one family is a gateway into a mass culture of fear and uncertainty. Haroun keeps drama to a minimum and the bad guys to the periphery and lets a simplistic story, albeit with complex undercurrent, unfold. The normality of birthday parties and relationships only highlights more so the scenes of desperation and intolerable living conditions for Abbas and Etienne.
Paris, Haroun-style is grey and dismal, a bleak new chapter for the family, the romance of the city is nowhere to be seen as Abbas struggles with his own inner turmoil between duty to family and his own self-respect. Haroun has struck the perfect balance in the film’s need to convey a message whilst being reserved enough to let the nuances of the story shine. Abbas and Etienne are shown often as parallel narratives that occasionally collide, emphasising the differences between the brothers.
Abbas, Etienne, Carole and the two children dominate the central narrative. Other characters are there but Haroun keeps them at arm’s length, not quite letting them gain substance; a wonderful way to reflect on the loneliness felt by so many in similar situations. A Season in France is heart breaking with glimmers of hope in its more infrequent uplifting scenes, but every struggle and every loss Abbas and his family have witnessed is palpable throughout the entire film. There are cultural markers from Abbas’ past, we feel his apprehension of this new country as he endeavours to fit in but to also retain part of himself. Bonnaire and Ebouaney provide truly outstanding performances, leading to an unambiguous and thought-provoking finale in which audiences will find themselves quite deflated, angry and emotional.
Haroun has set the bar for similar films, his completely un-antagonistic way of storytelling gives it all the more power, sparking a familiarity and attachment to the film’s characters in its audience.
Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Starring: Eriq Ebouaney, Bibi Tanga, Ibrahim Burama Darboe, Alayna Lys, Sandrine Bonnaire