LFF 2021 film review: Lingui, the Sacred Bonds
Daniel Broadley | On 13, Oct 2021
Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Cast: Achouackh Abakar, Rihane Khalil Alio, Youssouf Djaoro
Where to watch in the UK: MUBI UK (TBC)
Lingui, the Sacred Bonds screened at the 2021 London Film Festival. Find out more about how the festival works and what’s playing online here.
The bond between suppressed women in Chad provides shelter and community in this intense, well-acted drama.
The atmosphere of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s latest film, Lingui (the Chadian word for “sacred bonds”) is almost soothing; it moves along at a walk’s pace and there is a quiet sense of stoicism as Amina goes about her business, making handmade stoves out of old tyre parts against the backdrop of distant traffic and clucking hens (not to mention her adorable hand-sized kitten and puppy). But this calmness contrasts the seriousness of the situation that befalls Amina and her 15-year-old daughter Maria, who becomes pregnant and wants an abortion.
Amina’s initial reaction is to find the father and make him face his responsibilities. After all, abortion in the Islamic nation of Chad is both highly taboo and illegal; but thanks to the lingui between the country’s women – whether that be mother and daughter, sisters, or even strangers – Amina and Maria pull through.
The patriarchy lurks at every corner. The local imam pays regular visits to Amina to scold her for not attending mosque; neighbour Brahim is a unwelcome and looming presence as Amina rejects his advances and marriage propositions; and the mother-daughter pair must go through a male doctor to be reluctantly referred to an underground clinic to the tune of one million francs. And, even in the clinic – which at first seems like a safe haven – the police come knocking.
There is clearly no assistance available from the authorities, which are run by men, so the women look after themselves and each other in secret. Even though it’s a female teacher who informs Amina of her daughter’s expulsion from school, it is due to the rules and laws set and written by men. The women at the clinic do everything they can for Maria, and when Amina’s estranged younger sister Fanta shows up with her young daughter due to undergo female genital mutilation at the behest of her husband, Amina and Fanta put their differences aside and unite as the latter is invited into their lingui.
Despite some clunky dialogue, the two central performances from Achouackh Abakar and Rihane Khalil Alio create a truly believable mother-daughter dynamic, their stress and affection for one another subtly blending with the film’s otherwise calm atmosphere. Nothing is rushed, but it’s far from tedious; none of it is loud or dramatic, but the distress is palpable; no violence is shown on screen, but the threat couldn’t be more real.
Lingui, the Sacred Bonds will be released by MUBI UK at a future date.