Lingui: Neither Created nor Destroyed, by David Bax
From the 30,000 foot view, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Lingui (which the film’s subtitle helpfully tells us means “the sacred bonds” in Chad) is another entry in the tradition of great movies about kids realizing their parents are people too. But Haroun is being simultaneously more specific and grander than that, drilling down on to a distinctly feminist depiction of what it is to be a poor woman in Chad while also pulling back to illustrate the interconnectivity of life itself, those “sacred bonds” that tie us to one another.
Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane) is a single mother raising her teenage daughter, Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio), on the meager cash she make selling cookstoves she fashions herself from the body ply of tires she cuts up on the dirt floor of her home. Those details aren’t mean to invoke poverty porn, though. Rather, they illustrate the independence and self-sufficiency of Amina and the other women alongside whom she lives and works. For most of Lingui, men are either absent, like Maria’s father, or to be avoided, like the neighbors and imams who are quick to scold and instruct.
Lingui is hyper-focused on a just a handful of locations. This is true to the realities of Amina’s life and its limited options but it’s very likely also the byproduct of a modest budget. But, like so many filmmakers–from Jean-Luc Godard to Roy Andersson to Pedra Costa and more–Haroun fills out the world of his movie with offscreen noise, the din of a neighborhood that’s always awake and aware.
Some of that is animal noise too. Amina and Maria have a dog and a cat, both overwhelmingly adorable. Stolen moments of play with these family pets do more than any speeches or melodrama could to remind us that there are lives being lived here, not just parables being illustrated.
Which brings us to Lingui‘s sociopolitical goals. Maria needs an abortion, which is illegal in Chad and morally reprehensible to those in the strictly Muslim circle in which the mother and daughter travel. That doesn’t mean abortions aren’t available, though. Here as in the rest of the world, outlawing abortion doesn’t stop it. It just makes it more dangerous for everyone involved.
Amina’s initial resistance to Maria’s intent to have an abortion seems to come from religious conviction. But we soon realize that it’s actually a fear of inviting the kind of judgment she’s been handed her entire life. She softens as she starts to see herself in Maria. They’re not that far apart in age, after all. When we’re first introduced to Amina, selling stoves alongside another young woman, she seems girlish; it’s a bit of a surprise to realize she’s a mother to a teenager. Lingui suggests that youth is a form of energy, not something that goes away suddenly when life forces us to grow up. When Amina and Maria dance together at home, we can feel that animating lifeforce. It’s invisible but powerful, just like the bonds that connect them to each other and to the world.