By Jordan Cronk

Another fine if unremarkable film in a career defined by them, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Lingui, the Sacred Bonds features all the hallmarks that have made the Chadian director a mainstay of the modern festival circuit: competent craftsmanship, topical subject matter, and geographic backdrops just unique enough to lend an air of urgency to his tales of oppression and injustice. Here, 15-year-old Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio) is seeking an illegal abortion; her mother, Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane), would prefer that she keep the child, as she herself did when she was her daughter’s age. Eventually, the two put their difference of opinion aside and set out across N’Djamena to procure the procedure, hitting the requisite roadblocks as they navigate a patriarchal system that would just as soon leave them both by the wayside. 

It’s a simple, straightforward story that builds steadily toward some vague inevitability; when the moment arrives, it does so abruptly, as if the whole endeavour was reverse-engineered to bring us face to face with our most violent and vengeful impulses. As is typical for Haroun, his style is of more immediate interest than his storytelling. Elegantly shot and economically structured, the film unfolds at a pleasantly unhurried clip, prizing a form of classical film grammar that, while ultimately more anonymous than understated, works well enough for a parable of such increasingly global stakes. While something of a return to form following the mind-numbingly banal A Season in France (2017), Lingui still wants for the kind of authorial gesture that can elevate a perfectly watchable movie into a must-see work.