Lingui, The Sacred Bonds (CREDIT: MUBI/Screenshot)

Starring: Achouackh Abakar Souleyman, Rihane Khalil Alio, Youssouf Djaoro, Briya Gomdigue, Saleh Sambo

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Running Time: 87 Minutes

Rating: Unrated (It Would Probably Be PG-13 If It Were Rated)

Release Date: February 4, 2022 (Limited Theaters)

Lingui, The Sacred Bonds is north-central African country Chad’s official 94th Academy Awards entry for Best International Feature Film. Set in a village near the capital of N’Djamena, it focuses on singler mother Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleyman), who discovers that her 15-year-old daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) has been kicked out of school. The reason: she’s pregnant. Maria wants an abortion, but that’s going to be a little difficult in a country where it’s illegal and in a Muslim community where it’s strictly forbidden. Furthermore, they don’t have anywhere near enough money they would need to work around those obstacles. So what we’ve got here is yet the latest example that female bodily autonomy is a frequently salient cinematic topic around the world.

I don’t know very much about Chad, so a movie like Lingui is one of the most accessible opportunities for someone like me to be exposed to that part of the world. As far as I can tell, this is a fairly accurate portrayal of this scenario. I’m sure there are embellishments, and temporal contractions, just as there are in any movie from any country. But writer-director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is a Chadian native, so I feel safe in assuming that he’s providing a unique perspective to me and anyone else who’s never spent any time in his homeland.

If you’re wondering if you would enjoy Lingui beyond its ability to expose you to life in Chad, here’s how I would pitch it: it’s a heist film, and the target is the patriarchy. Instead of a crew of career criminals ripping off casinos, it’s a sisterhood sneakily achieving independence as they ignore the dictates from the controlling men in their lives who are ultimately none the wiser that they’ve been had. The oppressive system remains in place, but those in power look like doofuses for just a little bit. There’s a great moment towards the end when Maria calls a local imam annoying after he keeps asking Amina why she hasn’t been attending prayers lately, and then he basically just wanders off, kind of stunned by the futility of his demands. That’s Lingui in microcosm: laughing at The Man as much as you can so that he doesn’t break you completely.

Lingui, The Sacred Bonds is Recommended If You Like: International cinema, slice-of-life dramas, Dusty village roads

Grade: 4 out of 5 Secret Operations