Review: Lingui, The Sacred Bonds

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Stars: Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane Khalil Alio, Briya Gomdigue

Though men are rarely within frame, the critical eye of Chad’s patriarchy feels ever-present in the lives of Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) and her daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio); two women trying to carve out identities for themselves in a nation grappling with change. One senses that much of the rigorous constraint comes from the Muslim faith to which they both adhere. Amina respects the rituals and practices of her religion as learned. Maria, too, by reluctant proxy. When Maria falls pregnant, an abortion is not permissible, pressuring both to reconcile tradition with modernity.

Maria tells her mother that she doesn’t want to be perceived as a ‘loose’ woman like her, suggestive of the gossiping society of disapproval that these women are subject to. In their day-to-day, the mother and daughter work tirelessly together, fashioning wire-woven baskets that they sell to make a living on the bustling streets of the city. Such industriousness should be applauded, but when set against the limitations imposed upon their own bodies, a culture of gendered bias emerges. One senses what it must feel like to live within parameters set by others. The constrictions and frustrations of a life dolled out in portions.

Amina discovers a culture within the culture; a practice of illegal abortion that is tolerated, though far from medically sound. Its another option that exists within limitations and the only recourse they can reasonably pursue. With a higher level of danger in the practice, the film acquires a deftly sustained tension.

Half the world away and more maternally driven, Lingui, the Sacred Bonds shares a certain kinship with Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Both films examine – with minimal dialogue – how modern women have their autonomy subjugated specifically when it comes to abortion. For American teen Autumn in NRSA, the discrimination is financial. For Maria – and by extension Amina – this is the case, too.

In a sequence that plays with quiet pain, Amina attempts to prostitute herself to raise funds for her daughter, soliciting the market proprietor who so brazenly accosted her earlier in the film. His rejection of the transaction is a humiliation for Amina.

Continuing director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s interest in counterpoints and varied dynamics, this is soon followed by one of the film’s simplest, most joyous moments; Amina and Maria dancing together to the sound of the radio outside their working class home. It’s an important seeming moment of contrast; acknowledging that a life – even a hard life – is no one thing. Joys and sadness often abut one another.

Collisions of old and new also abound in a film that presents Chad as a country torn between tenses. In many ways it is becoming a modern, developed country. On a surface level, Haroun paints it handsomely, with a scope that often flies in the face of western assumptions of African culture and infrastructure. A nighttime pool party scene could have come straight from Los Angeles or Dubai.

Simultaneously, Haroun allows moments that marvel at the specificities of Chad’s natural beauty. Lingui, the Sacred Bonds pauses for a moment to take in the tranquil vivaciousness of a shaded lagoon… only to interrupt it with the discovery of a suicide attempt. Point and counterpoint create a kind of friction within the film; a restlessness that speaks of more widespread indignation.

Colour is of great value in the film, from the kimono robes and headscarves that are traditional modes of dress, to the slabs of colour that make up the brightly painted walls of homes and businesses. The vibrancy of Chad is not in question. What Lingui, the Sacred Bones examines is what’s going on behind those walls, inside those homes, beneath those kimonos. A late confessional reveals that this has been a film about an act of violence never seen. It is only after this that violence spills into the foreground; a far more insidious culture within a culture.

Arriving to stream in the UK via MUBI on (appropriately) International Women’s Day, an underplayed moment of charity and solidarity between women is among the film’s most touching.

7 of 10

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