DARESALAM (2000, Chad, 105 min.), directed by Issa Serge Coelo; screenplay by Coelo and Ismael Ben Charref; cinematography by Jean-Jacques Mrejen; sound by André Rigaut; edited by Catherine Schwartz; with Haikal Zakaria (Djimi), Abdoulaye Ahmat (Koni), Gérard Essomba (General Adoum); Sidiki Bakaba (Félix), Youssouf Djagoro Chéerif Youssouf (Tom), Baba Hassan Fatimé (Achta), Issa Malloum Garba (Father), Keye Khalité (Mother), Idrissa Adam (Bichara), Al Hadj Hassan Abdoulaye (Saleh). In French and Chad Arabic with English subtitles.
The events described in this feature film take place in Chad, an African country which, during the last century, experienced nothing else but colonization and civil war.
One day, in a village, and subsequently everywhere in the region, the peasants and craftsmen take to arms to defend themselves from a bloodthirsty and autocratic regime. A civil war breaks out. A vicious circle then begins and each regime creates its own warlike opposition. War becomes the only economy in the country. Violence becomes the only voice and means of communication possible.
Many countries in Africa, Asia and America have been plunged into this madness for decades and do not know how to get out of it.
Based on the myth of Cain and Abel, Daresalam is the story of how a war machine finally opposes two friends like twin brothers who were initially inspired by the same ideals.
This story is plea in defense of life and against war. -- Issa Serge Coelo
Daresalam (meaning "Let there be peace) is set sometime in the 1970s, against the backdrop of the early years of civil war in Chad. It opens in the village of Galbal with a familiar vision of village harmonyvillagers standing in a circle, threshing newly-harvested millet, working in easy and familiar harmony. Lovely music plays on the soundtrack. Women in brilliantly-colored dress move among the men. It has been a good year, we learn, because for once there has been adequate rain (in the early 70s, Chad experienced extreme drought conditions). People will be able to sell their extra millet, reserving enough aside so that they wont experience hardship in the coming year, pay their taxes, and can even buy a few necessities. Villagers are mutually-supportive, respectful, and friendly. It is a beautiful vision, but we know that this status quo will not last.
We are quickly introduced to the two main characters of the film, a young farmer named Djimi and his close friend, the young blacksmith Koni. Djimi is a good son and a hard worker; he is also dreamy, naïve, and focused on a young woman named Fatimé. Koni is much more pragmatic and capable. We can see that he will be the stronger partner in their relationship.
We quickly get a sense of impending conflict when Djimi and his father go to town to sell their millet. They are told by an army officer (who forces the father to lower his price) that there are rebels in the area, and taxes must be raised in order to fight them. In addition, we learn, they must pay a national "loan" that has been instituted to raise funds for the war. Having to pay both taxes and the loan puts the villagers in an impossible situation, and they put up resistance to the officer who comes to Galbal to berate them for not paying more quickly. The encounter culminates violently, and Koni must flee the village. A subsequent encounter with the Minister of the Interior (who ;ike all members of the government bureaucracy, speak s to them in Frencha holdover from the colonial period--rather than in their indigenous language) leads to further violence.
Djimi, meanwhile, has gone with his mother on a long journey to a dispensary to seek treatment for his baby sibling. On their way, they meet a group of rebels, and we realize that these rebels are very much like the villagers of Galbalmen who have had to flee their homes because they could not meet the government taxation demands. When the family returns to the village, they are intercepted by a bedraggled-looking Koni, who tells them that the village is on fire, Djimis father has been arrested, and soldiers are hunting down and killing all the young men. Djimi has no choice but to leave his mother and with Koni go off to join the rebels. A montage of scenes shows us the brutality to which the people in the region are subjected: rape, murder, torture, conflagration. When the young men finally make it to the headquarters of FRAP, the Front Revolutionaire de lArmée Populaire (The Revolutionary Front of the Popular Army) and seek to join, we support them entirely.
However, we will come to learn that the FRAP leaders are themselves not without fault. War-weary, somewhat cynical, they seem a bit too concerned with their own power, their own self-justifications. (Later in the film one of the men will say of the rebel captains and generals: "When we have a victory, the chiefs congratulate themselves; a defeat, and they blame others.") Director Coelo communicates this indirectly at firstmainly through glances , body language, and the fact that the rebel leaders too use French rather than Arabic or indigenous languages when communicating with the volunteersbut as the film goes on, it becomes clearer and more obvious. This is a result of the films bringing us into the young mens point of viewour confusion mirrors their own, we learn as they learn. Through references to Fanons Les Damnées de la Terre (The Wretched of the Earth) and discourses on the historical roots of African socialism, we will also get a sense of the ideological underpinnings of the struggle.
But this film is not about ideology, and Koni and Djimi never develop much interest in it. The film ultimately is more about the ethical dilemmas of war and resistance, the confusion and uncertainty that soldiers face in the field, and the ambiguous lessons that forty years of off-again, on-again civil war have to teach.
Konis talents, self-control, and physical presence will propel him towards the leadership. Djimi will remain more of the everyman surrogate for the viewer, never completely comfortable with the act of killing or the ethical toughness that revolution requires. There is a beautiful, powerful moment when Koni berates Djimi for thinking of women (Djimi has become attracted to a beautiful war widow, Achta) when they should be focusing on the insurgency. He points to a beautiful full moon and notes that everyone all over the world will see that same full moon. But a cloud passing over that moon will not be seen by people in other places. It is, he says, as if there are two worlds: "There is the world we live in and the world we fight for." Koni is able to harden himself and do what needs to be done in order to bring about the demise of a corrupt government. Djimi cannot so easily ignore the present world (neither its beauty nor its corruption) in pursuit of the dream. Their different natures will ultimately lead them in different directions.
And experience will scar them in different ways: by films end, Djimis will become physically disabled and emotionally wounded; Koni will be morally crippled. In the end there is hope for Djimi, who is able to surrender to the circle of life. The film concludes with a bittersweet sense of rebirth, coupled with a clear sense of loss. Though a relatively young man, Issa Serge Coelo has infused this film with an elders sense of wisdom and perspective, understanding of human weakness, commitment to the power of love.
Our heads are not just for holding calabashes. Our arms are not just for holding weapons. We cannot waste energy wiping away our blood.
Issa Serge Coelo was born in 1967 in Chad. He studied history in Paris and film, with a directing specialty, at the Ecole Supérieure de Réalisation Audiovisuelle (ESRA). Upon graduation, Coelo started working as a cameraman for M6, France 3, TV5 and CFI. He made several documentaries, Dans Les Sables de Bourème (1995), L'Auberge du Sahel (1997), and Maguida (1997). His short fiction fiom, Un Taxi pour Aouzou (1995), won awards in many festivals and was nominated at the Césars (the French Oscars) in 1997. Daresalam is his first feature film. As a first feature, it is really quite remarkable. His training and experience are evident in the films assured camerawork and editing, striking use of the landscape, and use of music to create a complex portrait of an era that is both thought-provoking and emotionally compelling.
--Notes by Michael Dembrow