TIFF 2021: Neptune Frost, Mlungu Wam (Good Madam), Lingui The Sacred Bonds | Festivals & Awards

We’re introduced to Tsidi (Chumisa Cosa) who is forced to reconnect with her mother Mavis (Nosipho Mtebe) after the death of the grandmother who raised her forces her from her home. With her daughter in tow, Tsidi comes to live in the suburban home where Mavis has lived and worked for decades. As the film progresses we learn that Mavis’ loyalty to Diane, her Madam, may be caused by even more sinister force than simple colonialism.  

While she is great at building tension from menacing static shots of the home’s interior, Bass’ continual panning across Diane’s fine china and her collection of traditional African art, has the opposite effect of what was likely intended. Tsidi feels othered in the home, but in attempting to broadcast to viewers, Bass’ gaze instead begins to other her cast. 

Equally bungled is the way Bass cuts her cast up by showing only their hands or bodies sans head in frame as they complete cleaning tasks. The intention it seems is to show how they are seen by the white people they serve, but the effect mostly relegates her characters to symbolism, stripping them of any form of agency. Bass also manages to lean heavily into exoticizing tropes with her score; her use of traditional chants to heighten certain “spooky” scenes left a terrible taste in my mouth. Ultimately, the film is muddled by too many half-baked ideas, poor execution, and distasteful directorial choices. 

Making its North American debut after playing Cannes this summer, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s latest film “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds” is the best of the bunch. A perennial festival favorite, Haroun’s deeply humanist films generally explore facets of manhood in his home country of Chad. Taking a chance outside his comfort zone, with “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds” Haroun focuses on the strength and resilience of women in the face of a dangerously patriarchal society. 

Living on the outskirts of N’Djamena, we meet Amina (Achouackh Abakar Souleymane), a single mother who was cut off by her family for having a child out of wedlock. When her daughter Maria (Rihane Khalil Alio), now 15, is expelled from school after also becoming pregnant the two face the event together. Abandoned by the father, Maria wants an abortion – illegal in Chad and forbidden by their religion – so that she can return to school and get her future back on track. Unlike her family, Amina does not turn her back on her daughter, but rather does everything she can to secure the health services she requires. 

Souleymane’s performance is tender and raw, seething under the surface with the anger she carried all these years for the community that exiled her, but also buoyed by the deep love she feels for her daughter. Through Amina and Maria’s journey to reproductive freedom, Haroun both shines a light on the strict patriarchal laws of the country, but also the powerful connections women form to help each other survive within them. 

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