Review by Sean Boelman
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s film Lingui, The Sacred Bonds might be set in the African country of Chad, but its themes resonate across the world, especially given recent events in America. Tackling its important themes in a way that will leave viewers absolutely shaken, this is one of the most hidden gems of the Fall festival circuit.
The movie follows a practicing Muslim woman who discovers that her teenage daughter is pregnant and wants to have an abortion, causing them to gain the scorn of their community. Although it has a premise that has been done before, and quite effectively, Haroun’s film manages to still feel essential thanks to its combination of empathy and honesty.
One of the most impressive things about this movie is how refreshingly minimalistic it is. With a runtime of under an hour and a half, the film does just enough to get its point across without going overboard. It’s a slow-burn of watching these people’s world crashing down around them until the final act ties everything together in a truly heartbreaking way.
Of course, in a direct sense, the movie speaks out against the anti-abortion laws in Africa. But this is also indicative of greater issues there are with the patriarchy. The political statements that the film makes are obvious but don’t feel like they are beating the audience over the head, instead showing the trauma this inflicts on people to leave audiences feeling disturbed.
The character development in the movie is also extremely strong. Telling the film from the perspective of the mother rather than the pregnant teenager seemed like a problematic decision at first, but Haroun’s script writes them both in a fully-rounded way. It’s a movie about internal struggles, and the arcs are truly compelling.
Both of the lead actresses here are amazing. Achouackh Abakar’s turn is brilliant, commanding the screen in a way that is quiet but filled with emotion. Rihane Khalil Alio is also very strong in her role, her first-ever performance, having exceptional chemistry with Abakar who plays her mother.
From a technical standpoint, the film is very reserved but it is fitting given its low-key nature. Nothing about the movie’s execution is flashy, from its cinematography to the score, but it works very well. Haroun rightfully focuses on the performances as the main source of the film’s power, and it pays off in droves.
Lingui, The Sacred Bonds effectively makes the audience feel the heartbreak of the characters without ever feeling emotionally manipulative. It is one of the best movies about the issue to have come out, and it is particularly timely at the moment.
Lingui, The Sacred Bonds screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 9-18.