Lingui, The Sacred Bonds (2021)

Quick synopsis: Single mother Maria discovers her 15-year-old daughter is pregnant and the two seek an abortion, which is condemned by both religion and law

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is a big deal in the film industy of Chad. It’s been argued that he’s the first Chadian director of full-length films. So him making a new film is a big deal, of the kind there is no English or American equivalent. This is the first film I’ve seen from him, and I’ll say I’m pretty impressed.

Yes, there are some flaws. Some of the editing is a bit weird. There’s one in particular where someone is walking behind someone, they get halfway behind them, then it jumps to them standing somewhere different. It’s not a mistake, as it’s clear there was a small time jump, but it is strange to see such an amateur mistake from such an experienced director such as Haroun. I do have to respect him for being a male who chooses to make a film about abortion rights. Let’s be honest, that’s not an issue that concerns men. So it’s an issue that he could ignore, that he could decide “nothing to do with me” and move onto something else. But the fact that he focuses on how shitty the laws regarding abortion are in that country is to be recommended. He has no dog in this fight, but he has chosen to enter it anyway.

It is a bit weird watching a film decrying backwards abortion laws lately, and this is no different. A story about a country where abortion is illegal and yet single mothers are still demonised, and this is all due to religion. You’re supposed to think “oh, that’s horrible”. But all you can think now is “so, like Texas?”

I should point out though, abortion laws in Chad are nothing like they are in Texas. Chad allows it to happen in case of sexual assault or if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother. So Texas is more backwards than Chad, and that’s a country whose last president has a section on his Wikipedia page titled “died in battle”.

So that’s the politics, how about the film itself? It’s……it’s powerful. It’s shot in a very matter of fact way, there are no shots which blow you away in terms of impressiveness, Haroun preferring to let some of the natural beauty of the locations come through. Achouackh Abakar Souleymane plays Amina, and she does a very good job. Even when she is condemning her daughter, telling her that she can’t through with the procedure due to their religion, the doubt is visible on her face. From that alone you can tell how her story arc is going to go, about how she’s going to react to her leaders and neighbours. It’s an incredibly powerful performance, and one that helps the film become what it is. Rihane Khalil Alio plays her daughter, also giving a pretty good performance. They don’t quite have the perfect chemistry, there are moments where it feels like two strangers talking rather than a mother and a daughter. But then there are moments where you can feel a closeness between the two.

In a weird way this is a film not just about those two, but about the country as a whole. Yes, this is a film about the closeness of mother and daughter, but it’s also about the closeness of community. A community that has to stay hidden and do their work in the shadows. About the communities necessary for life to continue as it does with the harsh restrictions on them. In dystopian films it can often be horrifying to see someone so nonchalant about terrible things. This takes it in the opposite direction. When Amina’s sister is talking about her husband threatening their daughter with genital mutilation, it’s not in a “well that’s how it is, I’m so downtrodden I see this as normal”, she too is horrified by what’s going to happen. It’s a stark reminder that certain laws cause people to suffer, and just because they’re silent about it does not mean they’ve accepted it or given up. They’re still aware that is happening is a grave injustice, and they’re still FUCKING PISSED about it. They can’t depend on the government to provide help or sanctuary, and they can’t depend on their husbands, because they’re often the ones doing it. So who do these women depend on? Other women. A community of women looking out for each other, understanding and advising.

It’s strangely beautiful, but ugly once you realise why. Once you think about the sheer panic the members must live in every day. That panic does come through in this film, especially in the surprisingly violent final act. There’s an act of violence near the end which is incredibly realistic. That works for it and against it. It doesn’t make it seem cinematic, but the dull thuds give it a strange brutality that you wouldn’t get in other, more slick, productions. It doesn’t feel like we’re watching an act of violence on film, it feels like we just walked into a room and are witnessing it. It’s incredibly uncinematic, and in a way that makes it brilliant.

In summary, this is available on Mubi, so if you have an account on that, I would recommend checking it out.

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