Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Feb 20, 2022 9:12 pm 
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The strength of woman in a world of men

Lingui is about bonds. The main one is mother and daughter, but there is also the mother's with her sister and both of these are sorely tried but wind up strong. This like the other film by this Chadian director that I once saw - Daratt, back in 2006, for my money a far more effective work - is partly about revenge. And the theme of social and religious constraints is constant. Perhaps Daratt is more effective because more congenial material for the director being about men, about a son avenging the death of his father, but also because it's wholly about revenge, and builds up a deliciously unbearable suspense, whereas this new film tries to cram in a wealth of issues.

Here Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is again delivering a simple and powerful film, though the diverse branches of the narrative cause it to stumble a bit, even though the director's forcefulness is in the editing, which uses blasts of loud ambient sound to link one scene powerfully to the next. That these women in the African urban village are powerful is signaled by the way they struggle with each other. Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane), is the mother who worships daily in the mosque apart from the men: their clubby fraternity of mostly attractive young men and a few older ones underlines that this is a male-dominated as well as Islam-centric society. Interestingly, Amina talks to the mosque people and the men in their rough-hewn Arabic; with her 15-year-old daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) and other women she speaks French. (The subtitles ought to call attention to where these two separate languages occur, but don't.)

The basic plot concerns Maria's pregnancy, which leads her to be barred from attending school. She wants an abortion and it's shocking when we learn who the father is. An abortion of course is against Islam and Amina's at first reluctant, then desperate effort to find one for her daughter pulls her away from her religion and causes the imam (Saleh Sambo) to be angry and suspicious. When he insists to Amina that he is there to help her there's an irony.

As Amina struggles with finding an abortion and eventually succeeds, it draws her and Maria to bond in the most powerful way. Meanwhile Amina's estranged sister Fanta (Briya Gomdigue) arrives with her daughter and after initial reluctance the sisters reunite as Amina, the better at "wheeling and dealing," knows a woman who does fake female circumcisions to satisfy the father's desire for the little daughter to have one. If you are looking closely this may seem a rather transparent effort to weave in several major women's issues, but the simple, forceful beats of the film make it work.

Rich details come along the way. One won't forget the delicate, symmetrical little stoves Amina makes from the metal pulled out of big tires, or the way she and her colleague carry them to market perched on their heads like filigreed three-storied hats. Or the legitimate doctor willing to bend the rules and provide an abortion in an illegal clinic but requiring payment of a million francs to rent it, leading Amina to a more artisanal woman abortionist reluctant even to do the job because it has been known to go wrong. One also remembers the rich ambient sound, in the interiors with the braying call to prayer echoing from outside since, after all, it rings out five times every day. I also will remember the noise of hands banging on metal doors and walls, and the way those correlated walls confine a rabbit warren in which Amina and Maria are trapped for suspenseful minutes after Amina has taken blunt revenge on the man, a voisin, a neighbor, she learns raped Maria and got her pregnant.

Just from the two films one can declare that Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is a powerful, accomplished African filmmaker. But while Lingui never really falters, it is less forceful as cinema compared to Daratt, and iLingui's greater worldwide attention and critical acclaim and wider US theatrical distribution seem more due to its touching on so many issues of female oppression than its triumphant artistry. Nonetheless Haroun is performing an essential service with this film and doing so in his own distinctive style.

Lingui, the Sacred Bonds/Lingui, les liens sacrés, 87 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes Jul. 8, 2021 and was a nominee for the Palme d'Or, receiving three nominations and three awards at other festivals. It is listed by IMDb as shown subsequently at 19 other important international festivals including Wrocław, Jerusalem, Hamburg, Toronto, Busan and London. In limited US release from Feb. 4, 2021. Screened for this review at Landmark Albany Twin Feb. 20. Metacritc rating: 82%.

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