Grigris is the Palme d’Or nominated, Academy Award submission from Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. While it did not feature in the official selection, it has received widespread acclaim since its release, and was picked up for distribution by both Netflix & Film Movement.
Souleymane Démé stars as “Grigris”, a man who moves on the dance floor like no other, and all while having a paralysed, barely usable leg. He holds the masses in his hands, he is their hero and his unorthodox usage of his injured leg when dazzling the audience only hypes the crowd up more. In a small town, this and helping his family out is his day-to-day life. He has a small photography business on the side, but even in Chad he realises that “everyone is a photographer these days“.
Unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst and he is in need of money for a family emergency. This musical drama, spliced together with his new-found love interest takes a slightly darker turn, as he looks to the source illegal but higher paying work. Naturally, this takes the film down a completely different direction, silently brooding away with a sense of wrongdoing throughout, knowing that what awaits is not pleasant for anyone involved.
Aesthetically the film is a treat to watch; from the underground tunnels, unknown darkness, to the vast landscapes surrounding the town, contrasted against the brightly lit dance floor; it is a vivid, crisp film that has plenty of variety. The music in the club is vibrant and exciting, but as with the cinematography this is juxtaposed against eerie silence and familiar noises of the town going about its day.
While Souleymane Démé’s performance was excellent, alongside great performances from Anaïs Monory as the unsuspecting love interest and Cyril Guei as the hardened crime lord, the story for all its moralistic and sympathetic values lacked a punch when executed.
Grigris is a slow burner right until the end. Its pacing is consistent but by trying to tackle many genres at once it never really finds its footing. Starting out as a romantic drama, delving into crime thriller, then culminating in a final third which seems more like the first act of a film than a ramped up climax. It is an interesting film, not one for everyone, but I expected more given the heavy investment into the characters established early on and the dark subject matter it went on to tackle.