Blues Groove Film Reviews

a solitary perspective of independent and world cinema

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Grigris - Mahamat-Saleh Haroun - 2013
San Francisco Indie Festival
New Parkway Theater, Oakland

Directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Starring Souleymane Deme, Anais Monory, Cyril Guei

Set in the African country of Chad, GRIGRIS is about a young man who doesn’t have much going for him except dancing. Even though Grigris (Souleyman Deme) has a paralyzed leg, which makes it difficult for him to walk, he pleases crowds at the local club on a regular basis with his original moves. While so many in the city are involved in criminal activities, the innocuous Grigris sticks to his family and his craft. However, when his step-father becomes ill, he can no longer work at his family’s photography shop and bears the heavy burden of paying off the hospital bills. Like many who suffer similar conditions, he finds work as a driver for a local petrol trafficker, Moussa (Cyril Guei). As with many new criminals, Grigris begins his work with hesitation, but becomes bolder and bolder to the point that he betrays his own boss for personal gain.

While Grigris’ life of crime becomes messier and messier, he finds friendship in a beautiful, sassy prostitute named Mimi (Anais Monory) who unabashedly does what she has to do to survive. When Grigris begins to pursue her, Mimi seems unaffected by his disability and relishes in his company even though she is upfront that she wants to remain independent. When an envious Grigris asks her how she can stand her job, she says matter-of-factly that everyone has to make a living, forcing him to accept her decisions. However, she is an outcast herself even if she appears to have the upper hand in the relationship. When Grigris tries to introduce Mimi to Moussa as his girlfriend, the unlikely pair is ridiculed and even threatened.

Economic hardship and crime in are hardly new concepts in African cinema. However, GRIGRIS adds another level of understanding through the developing romance between the lead actors. As we get to know Mimi’s character, we begin to uncover a compassionate side. She not only accepts customers of all ages and all shapes, she is genuinely kind to everyone she comes across. While most view Grigris as an entertainer, fascinated by his dancing (it’s not every day that a cripple can gyrate to music), Mimi detects a sincere heart. Grigris’ so-called friends turn on him quickly when he steals petrol in order to pay off his step-father’s accumulating medical debt; however, Mimi provides him a safe haven even though she knows that she will be targeted by Moussa’s gang for helping him. Her small acts of kindness are exactly what are needed in communities like hers where corruption and desperation run rampant. They are reminders of the need for tolerance in a chaotic world.

While there are clear gaps in storytelling, the film serves as a documentary on Chadian life in both urban centers and remote villages. Most have so little, but still find hope in the little things: dance, song, daily rituals, conversations. While the characters in GRIGRIS don’t always make the most morally correct decisions, it is important to examine the context in which they are living.


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