Chadian filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun excels at telling quiet tales about individuals whose lives are often upended by societal structures beyond their control. While his last film A Season in France focused on a refugee who was trying to establish a new life for himself and his children in France while waiting to see if his asylum request will be approved, his latest work, Lingui, The Sacred Bonds, explores the unforgiving laws which women must often navigate within their own country.
No one understands the frustrating nature of moving within the rules created and enforced by men more than Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane). The craftswoman living in exile from her family in the outskirts of N’Djamena, for committing the sin of getting pregnant and being unwed at a young age, has lived a tough life. A devout Muslim, who frequently worships by herself outside the local mosque, the fiercely independent mother works hard to ensue that her 15-year-old daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) has every chance at a better life than she did.
Unfortunately, the doors of opportunity threaten to slam shut when Amina discovers that Maria is pregnant and has been expelled from school as a result. Complicating matters further is that Maria is determined to get an abortion, which is religiously and legally condemned in Chad. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, Amina must decide how far she is willing to go to protect Maria along her difficult journey.
It is the journey that many women are forced to undertake, rather than the destination, that Haroun’s film is most interested in telling. Lingui, The Sacred Bonds is more than a simple abortion-related drama; it is a searing condemnation of the hypocrisy of men. In wading into the harsh waters that the women in the film must metaphorically swim, Haroun shows that even those living within the secure confines of society, such as Amina’s own sister, are not free from the brutal realities of patriarchy. One where religion and the legal system are used by men to make themselves the beacon of morality, even when their own code is a duplicitous one. This makes the various female bonds that evolve in the film so fascinating to watch.
In observing the sacred bonds between mothers and daughters, sisters, and the ones formed by those thrown together due to circumstance, one truly gets the sense that the women only have each other to truly lean on. They share a deep understanding of the suffocating nature that the men in their society have created. This makes Haroun’s focus on characters breathing patterns even more riveting. When Amina is shown out of breath, alone and exhausted on a busy street, it is a stark contrast to the terror Maria initially feels when she wakes up from nearly drowning and is surrounded by the heavy breathing of the men who had saved her moments earlier.
Sequences like this not only capture Haroun’s subtle mastery as a director, but also the exceptional performances that Souleymane and Alio give in the film. Bringing raw emotion to their roles, they ensure our hearts remain with Amina and Maria as they traverse across a minefield of topics that range from abortion to faith to female circumcision and more. Despite its numerous themes, Haroun ensures the struggles of the women always remain at the forefront. Lingui, The Sacred Bonds is a riveting and meditative drama that celebrates the way female bonds offer many a life raft when drowning in the sea of patriarchy.