Written by Christopher Vourlias for Variety from the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
A Season in France, the new feature by acclaimed Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, is a timely portrait of lives scarred by war and migration, set against the backdrop of Europe's ongoing refugee crisis.
The film world-premiered as part of the Special Presentations program at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. It's the sixth appearance in Toronto for Haroun, who won the Grand Jury Prize in Cannes in 2010 for A Screaming Man.
Inspired by the story of a Chadian refugee in France who burned himself alive when his asylum request was rejected, Haroun describes Season as an effort to "tell the story of [the] invisible faces" of immigrants who arrive in Europe, hoping to rebuild their lives.
At a time when the refugee crisis has vexed European policy-makers and raised urgent questions about how the world responds to the suffering of millions fleeing war and unrest, the filmmaker describes the situation as "a human tragedy."
"We can't chase these people [away]," he says, citing the example of his native Chad, an impoverished nation which has welcomed an estimated 400,000 refugees. "It's a question of compassion and humanity."
Season tells the story of Abbas, a high-school teacher from the Central African Republic, who is forced to flee his country's civil war. With his brother and his two young children, he attempts to find asylum in France. But memories of his past life - including a wife who was killed during the war - continue to haunt him, even as new love seems to offer him a chance at a fresh start.
Over the course of a celebrated career, Haroun has poignantly depicted the struggles of his native Chad. Season marks the first time he's made a film entirely in France, enabling him to explore his own complicated relationships with both his native and adopted homelands.
"I know very well the reality of refugees looking for asylum," says the director, who emigrated to France from Chad in the 1980s. "Thirty years ago, I was one of them."
His latest film, he says, is a way "to let people enter the interior lives of asylum-seekers," adding that if there is "no understanding, [there is] no compassion."