Lingui, The Sacred Bonds Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (2021; Chad – International finance) Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, Rihane Khalil Alio
viewed Tyneside Cinema 8th Feb 22; ticket: £10.75
subterfuge – artifice device or practice adopted to escape or avoid force
Me excluded there were four other people in the cinema to see Haroun’s ‘Lingui, The Sacred Bonds’ (LSB). I was glad I’d decided to go see the film this night as it obviously would not be held over and this was my last chance to see it on a big screen. The audience size indicated that in general given the usual run of things, there is little interest in the UK in viewing films that originate outside the bounds of what is familiar. Films have many different functions of attraction: distraction, confirmation of world view, empathic analogy, polemics etc, but exposure to the unfamiliar does not usually count amongst them.
‘LSB’ shot by Haroun in Chad and telling of Chad, is of another order of existence, another order of perception. another world. It is a fundamental human story telling of oppositions and oppression, a quest that resolves in resistance subterfuge and undermining.
‘LSB’ belongs to the type of film making that is rare now in the West but still used by some film makers from Africa and Asia: namely the incorporation of film making into the oral story telling tradition. In this respect Sissoko’s films come to mind as do the films of Ousmane Sembene. Haroun follows the moral code of the story teller: he simply shows the characters; he shows what befalls them and how they respond to each situation. He does not allow us to be enveloped or have our re-actions over determined by his characters psycho-emotional states of mind. In LSB the actors act out their roles without simulation of the emotional. There is no exploitation, using faked states of mind to manipulate the audience response as a fake identity check with the characters. LSB is grounded in the simple logic of the unfolding of the story, the folding over of the developing situations and dilemmas that engages the audience’s imagination; as the story is told they travel with the characters: we the audience become at one with them in their quest.
The opening sequence establishes a state of being. In a series of close ups shots, we see a car tyre being slit open with a work knife. It’s a tough job getting through the sidewall and tread, taxing the control and strength of the woman as she patiently cuts through the unforgiving material. Eventually she splits the body of the rubber tyre and is able to pull out the ‘prize’: its interior re-inforcing wire. Amina uses this wire to make lamps and stoves which she sells to make her living. She lives on the scraps of life recycling the otherwise useless spent and discarded junk of Western industry. Amina herself is something of a discard. In this traditional Islamic society as a woman she is already a second class citizen which status is compounded by her being single and her having a child (Maria) out of wedlock. Consequently as an outcaste she is shunned by her family and experiences some social ostracism. This is her life. There is nothing more to be said. She cuts open tyres for the wire; she is not dependent on anyone, earning enough to keep herself and her daughter Maria.
Amina is a nobody, of scant regard except as an object of the desire of others: her neighbour Brahim offers her marriage, which she declines; the Imam keeps an eye on her religious observance, using his high status to make demands on her to attend the Mosque for prayers. Then everything changes. The pregnancy of her daughter Maria turns her world upside down. After initial anger at Maria, Amina realises that her daughter must have an abortion. Maria must not be condemned to the same ignominy hardship and low esteem that she has suffered. Amina is activated. The woman in her moves, the germ of female agency once latent is energised. In a culture where women are invisible where religion and society preach shibboleths about the sanctity of life as a prop to hypocritical male morality, Amina will get Maria her abortion.
And she does. Moving through a recessed parallel world that exists in Chad, Amina is able to negotiate with the hidden network that exists to take care of women’s needs in the face of men’s opposition. It is a world that exists to undermine men’s suppression of women, but it is not a world in open resistance to men. The men are too powerful. They are too ready to resort to brute force in order to crush open resistance. What the women do is to work the shadows: sabotage and subterfuge. This is the path Amina takes to negotiate the abortion for her daughter.
Some might argue that the underground female network of agency that takes care of women’s needs is just a prop to the male dominated social system; but as this shadow world expands, the patriarchal structure can come under the sort of pressure that causes it to implode. And there is also empowerment. Amina at the end of the movie is a different woman: they don’t know it, but on her own terms she has taken on the establishment and won. Perhaps now emboldened after learning that Maria is pregnant through being raped, Amina takes and carries out her revenge – on her own terms.
In LSB, Haroun’s scenario and cinematography binds us into his script. His pace is deliberate, allowing us to assimilate to understand. The camera depicts the world for the audience to see as it is: ochre walls, dark dimly lit interiors, crumbling structures. It is a simple world interpenetrated by a simple patriarchal authority in family and religion. What we do see through Haroun’s camera is the immobility of the male: whether it is the imam or the pater familias: they are stone. In contrast when during Amina’s peregrinations we see the town in full swing, we see the young men, no women, darting about on their motorbikes, interweaving, swerving, speeding never still, suggesting a world that is experiencing a new order of change.