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Film

'Lingui, The Sacred Bonds' Review: An urgent feminist drama

@Russellisation
3.8

In the noisy landscape of contemporary cinema, arguably no one has done more to put African cinema on the map than Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the Chadian filmmaker who caught the attention of the industry with his extraordinary 2002 film, Abouna. Having since brought the likes of Dry Season and A Screaming Man to the silver screen in 2006 and 2010 respectively, Haroun has returned to once again stake the claim of African cinema on the map with Lingui: The Sacred Bonds. 

In the midst of wiry, buzzing mopeds, bustling street corners and quiet dusty alleyways, Haroun delivers his gentle story set on the outskirts of N’Djamena in Chad where Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) lives with her only daughter, 15-year-old Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio). Living on the profits of a rudimentary arts and crafts business where Amina fashions baskets from old car tyres, the understanding and fabric of the world around her crumbles once she discovers her young daughter is pregnant. 

Wishing to abort the pregnancy whilst living in a country that condemns such a practice by religion and law, Haroun’s film follows the difficult road to liberation for both the young girl and her desperate mother, doing so with a subtle poignancy that runs throughout the course of the entire film. Slow, quiet and methodical, Lingui prefers to focus on the relationship between the mother and daughter, tapping into their psychology with long periods of self-reflection rather than heightening the already simmering drama. 

Translating into a word meaning ‘sacred bonds’ in Chadian, director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun explores the film’s title, Lingui, with intelligent stoicism, considering what this bond consists of and where it consists in such an oppressive society. Indeed in this social examination, it is the feminist bond between woman and woman, as well as between mother and daughter that proves so defiant, with each bond working to elevate and support one another through hardship.

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As the director himself explains in an interview with production company Mubi, “I can only exist because others exist, that is lingui, that is the common thread, the sacred bond of our social fabric”. This is perfectly illustrated throughout several nuanced moments of resilience through Haroun’s film as Amina must decide for her daughter which ‘sacred bonds’ are worthy of breaking and which aren’t as she is forced to face the conformity of religion and national law. 

Having gone through childbirth at a young age, Amina becomes the driving force for her daughter to receive help, as well as being the lynchpin for the film itself, righting the wrongs of a society that is so skewed against female empowerment. Marching the streets of the city’s outskirts raising money to care for her daughter, it is only the community of those around Amina that facilitate her and her daughter’s efforts to seek freedom from the watchful eyes of those in authority. 

It all leads to a tense, rather disturbing final climax that only works to further consolidate the feminist evaluation of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s important film about the forced survival of two women in an unbalanced society. Though Lingui lacks complexity, it remains an urgent and contemporary tale that elevates the discourse of modern gender expectations.

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'Lingui, The Sacred Bonds' - Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
3.8