(French and Chadion Arabic dialogue)
The chance to peek inside isolated, strife-torn Chad picques viewer interest in “Bye Bye Africa,” but France-based helmer-writer-star Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s muddled, aimless mix of nonfiction and dramatic elements makes this first feature tough to stick with. Pic will no doubt travel fest and educational routes as a rare view of this luckless nation; those looking for entertainment value or a promising directorial voice, however, won’t find much reward.
Start has Haroun awakened in Bordeaux by a call informing that his mother has died. Returning to N’Djamena for the first time in 10 years, the expatriate grieves while reconnecting with old friends and musing upon Chad’s sad, war-depleted present. He takes particular note of the collapsed local film industry — his childhood theaters are now mostly shuttered, their viability sucked dry by pirated vidcassettes.
Distribution, let alone new production, of indigenous features throughout the continent is depressingly near-extinct. Nonetheless, Haroun goes through the motions of prepping a feature (which sounds just like the one we’re watching), even though funding remains to be found.
Viewers not already schooled in the region’s history and cultures won’t gain much enlightenment here, as draggy, unfocused progress seldom expands much beyond helmer-protag’s rambles around the city, meditating on whether his chosen profession retains any relevance for Chad’s embattled populace.
He encounters an ex-flame (beauteous Aicha Yelena as Isabelle) whom he’d once employed as an actor, an event that led to her public disgrace; he also auditions local would-be thesps in a B&W seg.
But these potentially involving tangents lead nowhere; pic stays as self-absorbed as Haroun himself, whose tepid screen presence dominates. Few high-emotion sequences are too flatly staged and written to break up overall lethargy.
“Bye Bye Africa” winds up in a dramatic limbo, with verite-style lack of visible narrative structure gaining little credence or juice from its staged, presumably real-event-re-enactive execution.
Tech aspects are adequate.