Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, one of Africa’s most important contemporary film makers, has turned his gaze on the experience of refugees.
His film A Season in France tells the story of Abbas who, together with his two children, flees the Central African Republic.
His wife Madeleine has been murdered during the country’s civil war.
Arriving in France full of hope, he is confronted by legalistic obstacles, bureaucratic disdain, and a remorseless road towards deportation.
His children, forced into living in makeshift accommodation and eating poor food, sometimes turn their anger on their father.
“A proper parent would have his papers sorted,” says one.
Haroun shows us little of the raw violence of Europe’s racist laws. We see just the occasional glimpse of the police who harass people on the street or carry out round-ups of those who will be expelled.
Instead the cruelty of the system is communicated through the power of letters that use leaden official prose to condemn a family to be sent back to poverty and the high possibility of death.
In one devastating scene we see the featureless office where asylum claims are decided. The camera tracks the desperate, anxious and exhausted faces of people from many former French colonies.
The system strips Abbas of any dignity or respect.
Haroun and his family would be homeless were it not for his relationship with a French woman, Carole. Etienne, Abbas’s philosophy-teacher brother, has also fled the fighting. He is reduced to living in a makeshift hut.
There is a very poignant scene where Abbas and the children celebrate Carole’s birthday with presents, dancing and cake. It’s a joyous and affectionate moment.
But the adults know that they have received another letter from the authorities—one they dare not open because it will almost certainly see Abbas removed.
Haroun told one interviewer that people waiting for asylum in France are left “living in a kind of no man’s land, under the shadow of a death sentence.”
Reflecting the reality of refugees’ experience, the film ends on horror, not hope. It’s a film that brilliantly shows how the state has made cruelty commonplace.