A Season in France (2017)

A Season in France is Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s moving film focusing on the plight of a father and his family, asylum seekers in the grip of hostile bureaucracy.

Cold Comfort

by Alexa Dalby

A Season in France

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

A Season in France is a slow-moving film that extracts the maximum emotion from quietly observing telling details in long takes.

Abbas (Eriq Ebouaney) is an asylum seeker from Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, a loving father with two small children. His wife (Sandra Nkake) was killed in their escape but he loves and misses her, and still sees her in dreams.

A teacher of French before he left his home, he now works as a porter in a market, scraping a living as he tries to care for his children. And he now has a French girlfriend whom he loves – understanding, sympathetic Carole (Sandrine Bonnaire), a florist in the market, who is helping him with his asylum claim to stay in France.

His two adorable young children (football-loving Yacine (Ibrahim Burama Darboe) and vibrant, luminoua Asma (Aalayna Lys)) wonder why they have come to a country where they’re not welcome. But there are lovely scenes of Abbas, Carole and the children being a happy family together. Despite missing their mother, the children seem to have accepted her easily. Though the story is told from Abbas’s point of view, unexplained voiceover from Yacine fills in gaps, sometimes to clarify cultural differences.

Abbas’s friend Etienne (Bibi Tanga), who was a philosophy lecturer in the Central African Republic, now works as a doorman and lives in a shed in waste ground. Abbas and his children are forced to keep moving to more and more squalid accommodation. Both these academics now can only get work in menial jobs. They despair of the state of their home country.

The film observes the destructive effects on them of their loss of status, their feelings of not belonging, of the hostility towards migrants like them and the uncertainty of their statelessness. Though they don’t articulate it, it penetrates to the deep heart’s core, destroying their dignity. For Abbas, it’s about being able to provide for his family. For Etienne, it’s also emasculating.

Chadian director Haroun has his characters come from the Central African Republic to reflect the current violence between factions there, though the relationship between Abbas and Etienne transcends their different religions. A Season in France compassionately presents two of the tragic human stories at the heart of the migration crisis in Europe, giving them a face and an identity in a kind of Ken Loach way. And it’s not only the migrants who suffer, those who become involved with them do too. As yet, there’s still no solution in sight to end such heartbreak.

A Season in France is released on 14 June 2019 in the UK as part of Refugee Week.

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