An interesting exploration of what it’s like to be a woman in modern-day Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s latest and much anticipated film, Lingui, The Sacred Bond, is Timbuktu meets 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. While ultimately delivering a satisfying viewing experience, it lacks what could have elevated it to a more striking picture about female oppression and empowerment.
Still, this is a film worthy of celebration, coming from an African country with rare cinematic output and delivering a story that could raise some eyebrows at home. And what it lacks in ambition, particularly in the screenplay department, it makes up for it in performances, cinematography and direction.
Taking place in modern-day Chad, particularly on the outskirts of N’Djamena, one of Chad’s largest and busiest cities, Lingui focuses on Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane), a craftswoman who spends her days taking out strings from tires to create homemade crafts she can sell on streets. It’s not that Amina has always struggled financially. Coming from a well-off family, she has been exiled and shunned for life following an out-of-wedlock birth.
In Chad, where Islam is the prevailing religion, such marriages are highly frowned upon, considered as unadmissable moral crimes. The problem is that, while society does not accept them, it also prohibits abortions, also due to religious reasons, leaving women with no control over their own bodies and no choice but to keep their babies no matter what.
Drawing parallels between Amina’s life and that of her young daughter, Maria (played by Rihana Khalil Alio), Lingui showcases the story of two women both reaching the very same point over two intervals in time. When Maria, 15, finds herself expelled from school for her pregnancy, she decides to have an abortion. Rejecting her decision outright at first, Amina comes to terms with Maria’s insistence and decides to help her gain control over her body and, ultimately, life.
A celebration of women’s resilience against a backdrop of oppression, Lingui is mostly interested in showing both characters’ breaking point. While seemingly focused on Maria’s story, the film subtly also paints a picture of how Maria’s choices lead to Amina’s empowerment too. Having lived most of her life accepting discriminatory social norms, Amina is freed by her own daughter’s resilience. Her awakening, while not fully explored in the film, is what makes Lingui most interesting especially when Maria’s storyline veers to predictability and, rather unfortunately, convenience.
Sparse music and effective editing help sustain audience interest throughout, while Mathieu Giombini’s cinematography finds beauty in the most unexpected angles and locations, especially the film’s striking night shots, capturing characters in turmoil and on the verge of life-changing decisions.
Bottom line: While not breaking any new ground, Lingui, the Sacred Bonds is a necessary film on the plight of women who constantly pay the price of choice. A well-made film that should find arthouse interest and have a strong festival journey.
This review is from the Toronto International Film Festival. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.
Photo courtesy of TIFF