Lingui, the review Sacred Bonds: the drama on abortion pays tribute to the women of Chad

Cannes: The mother of a pregnant teenager asks women in her community for help in the slender but fascinating power station of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.

Slender but captivating Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “Lingui, les ties” tells the story of a woman trying to get an abortion for her 15-year-old daughter in a country where termination of pregnancy violates both national and religious laws, but – as its title suggests in two different languages ​​- this soft hammer of a social drama is less concerned with the cruelties of Chadian politics than with how people help each other endure them together.

“Lingui” is a Chadian term which represents a tradition of altruism; collective resilience in the face of catastrophic ordeals. When a group of young men wordlessly pull teenage Maria (Rihane Khalil-Alio) from a riverbed after she tries to drown, it’s language. When Maria’s mother, Amina (Achouackh Abakar Soulymane) agrees to help her estranged sister in a moment of irrevocable crisis, it is language. When Maria’s school, frightened by the gossip that could be reflected on her, expels the girl as soon as she learns of her delicate condition … that’s why language is if necessary.

And that’s not the most pressing reason, as there are more predatory forces going on – many of them under the guise of aids, and virtually all of them are male. As it stands, Amina and Maria aren’t really helpless on their own. Only in her thirties but exhausted by the avoidance she herself endured as a child, Amina lives with her daughter in the suburb of N’djamena provides for both by selling wire stoves that ‘she manufactures by hacking metal from discarded car tires with a machete (a brutal process that Haroun’s still camera sees for all its hardships). It is not enough to afford a clandestine abortion, which costs around $ 1,000, but it is enough not to exist at the mercy of someone else.

When not working, Amina is busy hijacking marriage offers from her gray-haired neighbor Brahim (Youssouf Djaoro) and being reassured by her local imam that “anyone with a problem can call on her for help” . We understand why Amina might doubt it; seeing Amina forced to pray on a patch of land outside the mosque doesn’t inspire confidence that her ultra-conservative religious community ever has a woman’s best interests at heart. It’s a modern world rife with ancient struggles, and while Amina and Maria are connected to the 21st century through their iPod headphones, Haroun’s sentimental gaze suggests a sort of folkloric timelessness.

This timelessness is expressed in a way that is both sublime (the vibrant outfits that appear in the dusty streets) and tragic (internalized misogyny, transmitted from generation to generation as a family heirloom). Maria knows that people think that any single mother is “a cowardly woman” and that she would rather die than follow in her mother’s loving footsteps. That’s why she pushes Amina away, only turns to her giant teddy bear for comfort, and refuses to identify the man who got her pregnant. This mystery remains unexplored for most of the duration of the film, as Haroun instead focuses on the hard work of finding help and the logistics of the fellowship providing it.


Each scene is reduced to a meaty shell of despair, and the basic shots of Amina crossing the street or looking at murky potions on a midwife’s shelf are all the more gripping for the way they play out. in broad daylight (Soulymane’s performance adds texture to even the most passive moments of the film). There are occasional sequences of a more dramatic urgency – a nocturnal escape from an abortion clinic is as suspenseful as any thriller – but even they reflect the simple poetics that elevate Haroun’s storytelling above the ground. “Isn’t that horrible?” “The moral instruction of the show film” Lingui “never becomes.

A breathtaking climactic sequence taking place in a maze of alleys is perhaps the most lucid example of the fine line of Haroun’s toes between metaphor and reality, as Amina and her daughter are effectively stalked by a minotaur in a labyrinth that may not even have an exit. . The danger could not be more immediate, and yet the scene takes place in a vaguely mythical register which allows it to carve out a more abstract feeling of inevitability without reducing these characters to simple representations of their fate – short film in which each line is spoken with the brutality of a parable).

The bewitching space that “Lingui” cuts between personal circumstances and elemental conflicts reflects the balance that Haroun establishes between his spartan approach to storytelling and a new visual command (the lush saturation of Mathieu Giombini’s cinematography allows it to be distinguish from the best of Haroun’s earlier films, such as as “Grigris” and “A Screaming Man”). It also allows Haroun to arrive at the perfect note of grace for a story that would risk betraying the harsh reality that Chadian women face if it were resolved with a fairytale ending.

Amina and Maria are not going to overthrow the patriarchy by ending a single pregnancy or convincing the local imam to reconsider the way he exercises his faith. The danger that threatens Haroun’s characters today will threaten them again tomorrow, perhaps even with a more violent sense of entitlement than before. But language can only exist in the face of great difficulty, and Haroun’s surprisingly cathartic film honors tradition by celebrating the fact that it still exists.

Rating: B +

“Lingui, les ties sacrés” was presented in competition at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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