grigris-002There have been few films quite as moving and poignant as A Screaming Man in recent years, giving Chadian auteur Mahamat-Saleh Haroun something of an onerous task to better what came before. However his latest picture Grigris is a more than worthy attempt, and although not quite of the same, exceptionally high-standard, it’s his second consecutive feature to be nominated for the Palme d’Or – and rightly so.

Grigris (Souleymane Démé) is a twenty something with dreams of one day becoming a dancer. Blessed with a unique ability for performance arts, the popular Grigris knows he faces an uphill battle to fulfil his cherished aspiration, as he has a paralysed left leg. When his uncle (Marius Yelolo) falls critically ill, he has to put his dancing on the back burner for a while, and when needing to raise some money to cover the hospital bills, he becomes dangerously embroiled in petrol trafficking, putting both himself – and his new girlfriend Mimi (Anaïs Monory) – in danger.

Though dealing with equally as affecting themes as in A Screaming Man, Grigris couldn’t be a more different film, as where the previous endeavour was exceedingly minimalist and sparse in dialogue, this feature begins in a nightclub, with a crowd of people chanting and singing. However this joyous, celebratory opening lulls us into a false sense of security, as a tragic tale unfolds soon after. There is a stark contrast between the two aspects to his life, as by day he deals with his uncle’s illness, putting himself at risk to ensure he leads a longer life, then by night he releases his inhibitions, as we witness this introverted and youthful presence puts his slacks on and starts dancing, as the tone shifts freely and naturally throughout the film.

His dancing is so brilliant to watch, as you become completely absorbed in his performances. Grigris is a tragic, if fundamentally gracious creation, as someone so inherently optimistic, and completely endearing as a result. The performance is incredible, and it certainly can’t have been the easiest of casting processes; to find a young man in Chad who can dance so creatively, and yet act so earnestly. Oh, and someone who can eat fire too – yet somehow they found him. Démé’s disability (which is genuine) gives the character a distinctive vulnerability also, making for some incredibly uncomfortable scenes during the latter stages on when he lands himself in trouble. The disquieting nature of such sequences is enhanced powerfully by Haroun’s pensive, suspenseful build up, as we anticipate the very worst.

For the second consecutive time in a row, Haroun’s entry point into the film is that of an elusive, timorous character – making for a fascinating way to peer into a world we already know little about. Much credit must go to the director however, because there’s no denying we leave feeling incredibly well-versed. The quality of acting in Chad is simply inspiring, as this subtle piece of filmmaking marks the continual rise of an important director in world cinema, proving that, if you dig deep enough, there are some real, quality gems to be found all over the world.