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Grigris is the latest film from acclaimed writer-director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (A Screaming Man, another Film Movement release). The effort earned the recognition of the Cannes film festival upon release and was selected as a nominee for the prestigious Palme d'Or in 2013. Inspired by the director's experience meeting lead-actor Souleymane Deme dancing with tremendous enthusiasm within a club, a story was then crafted after the encounter and it eventually became the backbone of this feature.
The story of the film centers upon title-character Grigris (Souleymane Deme), a 25 year old living in Chad and who is working with his step-father; providing services such as tailoring clothing and taking professional quality photographs. On the side, Grigris is also making a income off of his inspired and inspiration dancing. Despite having a disability that makes it difficult for Grigris to walk, he regularly goes to clubs and becomes so fully invested in the dancing that people toss him some money which helps him in his day-to-day life. This is an increasingly positive aspect of his life goal of becoming a professional dancer. That effort is something he holds close to himself and it is his dream.
His dancing soon impresses a girl from the club scene. Her name is Mimi (Anais Monory) and she seeks him out for his photography. When the two meet, a magnetic connection begins and throughout the film the affection and love the two characters begin to have for one another is a driving force of the narrative and of these character journeys. Mimi is a confident and loving person, but she is impoverished and barely makes it by while working as a prostitute. Grigris learns of this but has nothing but love and affection for her. Together the two look to find new beginnings together, hand-in-hand, and over the course of the journey they take together in the film.
Things become even more difficult for Grigris when his step-father becomes dangerously ill and there is not enough income to provide him the medical attention he needs. Grigris then begins working with a petrol smuggling gang so that he can earn enough income to help to save his step-father's life. This leads him into trouble and his life becomes at risk within the corrupt environment surrounding him. He risks everything to try and safe his father's life. And the experience is one that brings him and Mimi closer together as they seek refuge from thugs looking to take Grigris's life. And despite this daunting experience, Grigris maintains both incredible spirit and love for Mimi and for his dancing.
The performances in the film are incredibly realistic in tone, partially because of the lack of acting experience from both Anais Monory and Souleymane Deme. This effort was the first filmmaking experience for both of them. Souleymane Deme was discovered by the director through his own passion for dance, and Anais Monory was working as a model in Chad (and who had appeared on the French version of Next Top Model). Both are dedicated to their role within the film and blend genuine emotion with character nuance.
The solemnity of Grigris is well explored; as are the moments of brightness brought forward during his encounters with Mimi and when he lets loose on the dance-floor. Mimi's struggle is one that equally predominates in the storytelling; the story draws a clear comparison between the two characters as she wishes to seek her dream as a model but instead struggles to even survive as someone who prostitutes herself. This correlates to Grigris's aspirations as a dancer as he has faced his own determent from dancing to help his father (and their working livelihoods) by associating with dangerous petrol smugglers. The story of the film explores the characters situations both for character-development and to question livelihoods in Chad within the environment of mass poverty that is inflicting these people.
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun has crafted a script that follows brevity on words as a common style approach, but which places strong emphasis when needed. The film is a character-study and journey for the characters while allowing adequate time for the acting to expand naturally in style. The directing is also quite well balance with a poetic sensibility that allows for shots in Grigris to have more prominence depending on any given scene. The landscape shots hold an interesting amount of depth to them and this helps to excel the filmmaking and story tenfold. I was constantly impressed by this dedication to naturalism and emphasis on the character's own environments.
The film's beating heart is on dreams. This is what made the casting of the two leads successful. Souleymane Deme's real aspirations in dancing and Anais Monory's own success in her dream of modeling professionally. The casting worked well because the actors could understand and relate to these characters aspirations. The message of the film surrounds the idea of not giving up with pursuing one's dreams, and this is where I most enjoyed the film. The filmmaking style was at times a bit too laidback for this message to glow seamlessly, but the approach seemed to fit a sense of naturalism that the director was aiming for and the message is a positive one. Grigris is a effective film and one that is sure to entertain and inspire those who have their own passions in life.
Grigris arrives on DVD from Film Movement with a reasonably good presentation of the film in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. The presentation has been given a solid anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 televisions. The presentation has a generally worthy quality when it comes to color reproduction and cinematography. However, there are some occasional compression artifacts (particularly in a handful of nighttime scenes) and the film's presentation appears somewhat soft (which may be partly due to the source filming). Overall, it's a reasonably engaging visual representation for the film.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital French audio works well for the most part with clean vocals; the dialogue reproduction is excellent and the fluidity of the soundtrack blends enormously well. However, I noticed that there wasn't much activity for the surrounds (which were sparsely used). In only a few moments, the surrounds seemed to open up for the dance-floor sequences and for a minor amount of ambiance. Otherwise, this sounds more like a stereo presentation, albeit one that is perfectly suitable and serviceable to the film.
English subtitles are provided.
This releases includes the monthly short film selection by Film Movement: Feral (12 min.), which is an abstract animation film directed by Daniel Sousa. This short film follows a boy that became raised by wolves and who is brought back to human-kind, only to struggle adapting within the different environment. It's a nightmarish exploration of the character and struggle, created with unusual animation that is almost entirely abstract and unique: black brushstrokes, gray hues, and a fluid blend of dark color tones to make it an almost noir-like approach to the story. The piece has tremendous visual effects (so much so that I don't doubt this is something that helped to earn the short a nomination at the Academy Awards for Best Animated Short). It amazes with its visual design. However, the story and approach is minimalistic and highly open to interpretation in a way that feels somewhat less successful on a storytelling basis. This short is still one to watch for animation fans looking for something with creative visuals and a originality on display.
Also included on the release is brief biographies for writer-director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun and actors Souleymane Deme and Anais Monory and promotional trailers for other releases by Film Movement.
Grigris works largely on the performances and on the visual panache of director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. While the story that Grigris explores feels a bit slow in part, the fine filmmaking works well and makes this unique effort one that is worth checking out for fans of foreign language films. Souleymane Deme delivers a fantastic debut performance and makes the film a more enveloping experience through his enthusiasm for dance. This also makes the film worth experiencing for those who appreciate the artistry of dancing.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.