On this special episode, host Rico Gagliano talks to Cannes-winning filmmaker Mahamat-Saleh Haroun about his latest film LINGUI, THE SACRED BONDS — the story of a mother trying to secure an abortion for her daughter...in Chad, a country where abortion is illegal. Haroun opens up about the movie's real-life inspirations, the collective power of women, and about his homeland's last remaining movie theater — the palace where he learned to tell stories.
LINGUI, THE SACRED BONDS is now streaming exclusively on MUBI in the UK, US, and many other countries.
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A heads up, this episode contains spoilers. It also includes discussion of reproductive issues and sexual violence. Listener discretion advised. It's evening, in the city in the African country of Chad, and a single mother named Amina has had a long day Her unwed teenage daughter, Maria, is pregnant, and Amina has been trying to find a way to get her an illegal abortion. No one's been much help. A local doctor, the imam at her mosque, even the guy who wants to marry her, Amina is puffing on a much needed cigarette when her daughter catches her. <i>Maman?</i> "You smoke?" she says. <i>Oui.</i> <i>Je ne veux plus cacher.</i> "Yes." Amina says. "I don't want to hide anymore." After which, slowly at first and then with abandon. She starts happily dancing, all by herself. That's one of my favorite scenes in Mahamat-Saleh Haroun new movie Lingui, The Sacred Bonds. And I love it because it captures what's amazing about the film and all of Haroun's films. Here's this tough, complicated society and here's this tough, complicated person trying to transcend it. Yeah, it's about power in general, and it's about violence. If you are marginalized in a society like the mother and her daughter, the only thing that you can oppose it to the violence, the public violence is just tenderness. So the film is more about, you know, tenderness. It's the way to resist to the violence of men against women. That is the Cannes winning director himself. I am Rico Gagliano. And welcome back to the MUBI podcast. MUBI's the best place to stream beautiful hand-picked cinema. On this show, we tell you the stories behind beautiful cinema. Season two is on the way. Meanwhile, today, we got another special episode to tide you over. You're going to hear my interview with Haroun about Lingui. It's maybe one of the best reviewed movies of the year. And also, especially given the recent news out of the USA. It's one of the most timely movies of the year. You will also hear us talk about Chad's sole surviving movie theater, which makes sense because in Haroun's first feature, which is called Bye Bye Africa, he cast himself as a filmmaker who watches Chad's movie theaters vanish. But I started by asking Haroun what inspired him to make this new film, Lingui? His answer was startling. Well the inspiration, was an article I have read in a newspaper in Chad and it was about newborn babies, you know, that we find in garbage. And it's commonplace because I saw a lot of articles, and the last one was like two weeks ago. We have two cases. We found a newborn baby in a garbage and another woman, which is married, and she has a lot of kids, I think. And she throw her newborn baby in a toilet. Oh, my God. And so that's why I decided, you know, to make a film about this story, because a lot of women has to face this kind of problem. Abortion is forbidden in Chad. It's illegal. It's forbidden by religion, of course. And so they don't have any contraception and all these things, you know, so they are really in a kind of very bad situation. And I started, like, thinking about all this woman I know. And I remember my grandmother I grew up with her. She got divorced in the early 40. And she got just the one kid which was my father. And she has never been, you know, married again and she never get any kids, you know. So I think she has invented something like contraception, maybe, or abortion, I don't know. But it was a kind of tribute to my grandmother and to all these woman who are suffering of not having the possibility, you know, to make the choice that they want. Actually along these lines without giving things away. There's a whole series of challenges these female characters have to surmount in this movie. And there's this whole kind of underground network of women that they have to tap into to get by. How much of that is based on real events that either you've witnessed or been told about? Or is it kind of like you're just imagining what your grandmother had to go through? Well, you know, what we had in Chad is what we call, you know, <i>pareille, pareille</i> is a kind of group of women and they try to collect money every month. You have like one hundred woman, you know, a neighbor neighborhood. They put like $10 each, you know, and the whole money is given to one of them. And every month, you know, they start again the same, you know, collection of money and it's a way to help each other, you know, and try to find a solution. Are these groups created specifically for cases of abortion or are they giving each other money, you know, to help them in whatever they need? Yeah, in every problem that they face, you know, but I think that also they try to find solution when there is a young lady pregnant and if she doesn't want it, they try to help. You know, they are in an invisible way. It's a kind of fight and struggle and that has inspired me. And that's why you have all these women in the film. They try to help Amina to resolve the problem. Are there any scenes in particular that come from stories that someone told you or something that you have seen for yourself? Yes. Yeah. I made an investigation with nurses, and so they told me a lot of stories. They didn't tell me really... Who is the woman who has been involved in this kind of problem. You know, because they don't believe me, as a man, they are not confident to give me all, you know, the information and I do believe that they are right. You know, as a man, you can be just like an enemy. But I had a lot of information and then I started writing the script, yeah. So like the scene, for instance, there is a scene where an abortion clinic a doctor whose office does abortions is raided. Yes. Yes. So that unfolds basically how it might have in real life. That's based on an actual scene. Yes, of course. We have some doctors. You know, they used to practice abortion they know that it's illegal. But in a human way, they do it because they think that it's the right way, you know, to help this woman. I mean, it's a harrowing scene the daughter is basically she's sleeping at the clinic the night before the procedure and she's... wakes up to the sound of armed men banging on the door of the clinic. She sees the doctor getting shoved into a vehicle in handcuffs. And she ends up, she basically ends up running home alone, wearing nothing but her hospital gown. I mean, it's a film that shows the consequences of a lot of issues that it sounds like people in Chaddon't want to talk about:
abortion, rape, patriarchy. Did you have any concerns about making this in the first place? So I remember that I have, like, four sisters, you know, I have a lot of aunts, my mother and et cetera. And as the only active filmmaker in Chad. It was a kind of duty for me to talk about this story, because the fact in Chad is the word rape doesn't exist in our languages. That means that it doesn't exist if you have sexual relation by forcing a woman, it's not rape. It's just it happened and that's it, you know? So how could you talk about something which doesn't exist? And I'm happy to see that the film has a great success in Chad, you know, because during the screenings in Chad, we saw women, you know, a group of women, they came there and they asked Achouackh Abakar Souleymane the main character, to become their icon. And they want to struggle and fight to legalize abortion because they saw the film. I'm really happy about that. I was going to ask you about this because this film really doesn't pull punches in the institutions that it levels criticism at. That religion and the authorities all come under fire. And I know that the regime in Chad is not known for being especially tolerant. How are you even screening this film? Like where's it even being shown? Well, the film has been shown in I mean, we have just, only one cinema theater. And because of the COVID, it's closed now. So we did it at the French Institute and we did also, you know, screenings in several places, like in associations and et cetera. So and as I'm well known, it's difficult, you know, to say we have to forbid the screening of this film. It's going to be a huge like reaction, I think, in the world, because I'm a little bit well-known, you know, so I think that because I'm well-known, so I'm protected, it's my status. I would think it would be the opposite, though. It's like you're very well known and then you're attacking them. They would be like, well, we definitely can't allow this to be shown. Yeah. But the fact is just they are really very happy when I'm in Cannes, when people talk about the film in a certain way, it's a positive thing for the country, even if the film is bad, you know, it's just like a good thing because we talk about Chad in a positive way and they think that I'm a good player, you know, in a way, yeah. It's maybe a decent advertising for Chad that such a filmmaker could come from there. Yes. Yeah, I think so, yeah. You, I was going to ask you about this, actually. You left Chad as a young man during the civil wars there, and yet you live now in France, but you make almost all your movies have been set in Chad or about Chad. How do you think your kind of expatriate status affects the way you make these movies? Like how are they different than films that would be made by someone who actually lives there? Well, there is no difference because, you know, I'm always in Chad every two month. I'm always connected with the country. And my duty as the only filmmaker from Chad is to talk about Chad. If I stop, like making films in Chad, there will be no images, you know, from Chad. And that will be very sad. And I think that, you know, cinema has something to do with music. Cinema is a kind of symphony, you know, and in this symphony, you need all music. I mean, all instruments have to play. And I think that I am part of this symphony as a filmmaker. And it's important to let people, you know, listen, my little music and my little point of view, that's why it's a kind of duty for me to come back to Chad and to tell stories from this country. How can you be still, though, after so many years of making movies, really the only filmmaker coming out of that country, has it not inspired others to maybe make films themselves? Yes, I inspired a lot of people. You know, when I'm in Chad, I used to wear, you know, traditional clothes. And then now you have young filmmakers. They want to become like, Haroun, that's what they say. So they wear the same clothes and they have the same look. You know, trying to become like Haroun. And a lot of them want to make films. But the fact is just they are not educated in cinema. And as you may know, it's not easy if you haven't studied cinema and if you don't have the opportunity also to watch movies to become a high profile filmmaker, So my legacy is to try to build this cinema school. You know, I don't know how, but I'm more than 60, you know, 61, 62. So I have to let young people, you know, make films also. If not, it has no chance. If I die tomorrow, there is no young filmmaker coming from this country. I want, that's my goal. Yes, please. By the way, stay with us a little longer. 62 isn't that old. [Laughing] I mean, I do know I hear how much you love the country, and I can see it in this film. I notice that as grim a picture as you paint of the society, in some ways, there's actually a lot of beauty. You don't go out of your way to emphasize squalor or something. Or abject poverty. There are moments of showing the place almost serene. Even if there are a lot of problems. I think that there is beauty somewhere. You know, even if I am talking about dramas and all these tragedy, I try always to find the beauty in these places because, you know, beauty is everywhere. And if you want to touch people, you you have to bring out, you know, the beauty of the place. It's not only drama, misery and all the things. So that's why I'm trying to do. I spoke to a filmmaker one time. He's actually a documentarian and he said he was making... It was actually nothing like your film. It was kind of like a true crime drama. And he was always having a hard time with his editor because the editor was saying, "Is this guy that we're portraying "who may or may not have killed somebody, is he a good guy or a bad guy?" - Yeah. - And he kept saying, he can be both. - Things can be both. - Yeah, he can be both. Yeah. The fact is, just like there is so complexity, you know. Every one has his black face and his white face, you know? So I think that we should try to to reveal this complexity of human being, you know, and that's what I'm trying to do with my means, of course. - Yeah. - To that point. As I went back and watched Bye Bye Africa. Oh yeah. And you kind of star as a version of yourself. And at the end of that film, your character kind of seems to give up on Chad, is like, I'm leaving this place. Whereas in this movie there is there's beauty and there's this kind of surprising hope in it. It's not bleak. Does that reflect a change in you? Are you more hopeful about Chad or maybe even about what's possible in the world? Because it's not a super hopeful time. Yeah, I think I'm hopeful with... Yeah, some people not maybe with Chad, you know, but with this character in the film. Yeah. Yeah, I'm hopeful because I know a lot of women, you know, struggling every day trying to find a sense to their life. They, they keep going on, you know, even they face a lot of problems. And I think that... In a moral way, I have to give hope to these people, not about the country, but I think that it's important, you know, that if the story is just like at the end, it's a story of loser. There is no science also tell it. I think that hope is very important. That's why we continue to live. Something it's pretty clear Haroun lives for? Making movies and watching them. And actually one of the more hopeful developments in Chad has to do with that theater you heard him mentioned earlier, the only cinema left in the country, a place called The Normandy. For a long time, Haroun says it was an empty ruin until the government miraculously brought it back to life. And he told me for him, it was like getting back a little piece of his youth. When I was a teenager, I used to go there. You know, there was a screening at ten on Sunday, so we used to invite, you know, our girlfriend and we walk in this big avenue, you know, and just it was a kind of, yeah, we were happy, you know, it was happiness. Just like walking in the street with your girlfriend, going to cinema you know, and then in this black cinema theater, you know, you touch her hand, et cetera. So I had a lot of <i>souvenir,</i> you know, and visits. Yeah, my favorite cinema theater. What kind of theater is it? Is it a very old theater? Yeah, it has been built in the early 40 and I think that it's named Normandy because it has built by a guy from Lebanon. And there was a boat, a famous French boat called Normandy. And I think that he, he gave this name just because of this boat. You know. It's like a great cruise ship of a movie theater. Yes. Absolutely. Is it kind of like Art Deco? Well, I'm thinking 1940s, is it a movie palace? Yes. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It's a movie palace. With red seats. You know, it's a nice place. Absolutely a nice place. But you say it fell into ruin for a while. What made the government reopen it? I won the special jury prize in Venice, and there was no place to screen the film. You know, the president wanted to watch the film, and it was impossible. We didn't have any place. So we organized a screening at the president's office, and we had the whole government there. And it was not secure to switch off the light because it could be dangerous. So we screened the film in a bright, you know, place, and of course, you can see nothing. The images were so, I mean, it was very, very absurd in a way. But from this time, I think they were starting just "We need a cinema theater." And then when I won the jury prize in Cannes, they said, well, we cannot just like... Listen about Haroun's movies without watching them. So we have to renovate Normandy. And we started like screening movies of course, Hollywood movies, because everyone everywhere loves Hollywood movies. So yeah, we did it til the Corona virus, you know, killed everything. And I hope that in a few months we will reopen again and we can watch a movie there. Fingers crossed that that comes back. Different cultures they have different cinema culture, like in some European theaters, they have, you know, an intermission where you go out and you grab a beer halfway through the movie is there anything very specific to moviegoing in Chad? Yes. Yeah. You know, when we had like cinema theaters, we used to have people, you know, selling sandwiches, Coca, et cetera, you know, so it's just like a kind of African market. I do love these places because you have a lot of people coming there sometimes just to sleep, to play cards... To be just with other people to share, just like the screening. But they don't come there for cinema. So it was a yeah, yeah, yeah. I enjoy it very well. Yeah, very well. Very much. There are people like playing cards in the theater while the film was going on? Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because they have seen like the same film for ten times, you know? So it's just like, it's being in a cinema is a way to share the same moment, you know? And sometimes we some of us, you know, when we were young, they don't have like money they can't come to cinema. So one of us or two, three, when we finish towards the movie, we come back and then we tell them the story, you know, step by step for one hour and a half. You have to tell the whole film, you know? So it's yeah, it was a good experience of loving cinema, yeah. You think that's how you became a filmmaker. You got good at telling stories, I bet. Yes. Yeah. That's how we will... That's how I learned. You know, we analyze by telling the story of the film. We analyze at the same time, you know, the script of the film, telling the story of the film to the others. You can discover at this step the script, it's not really right. It's a little bit like... Weak. - Yeah, it's weaknesses. - Yes. Yeah. So we we learned a lot. You know, it was a kind of school, you know. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun he was apparently well schooled at the Normandy, the National Board of Review named Lingui, the Sacred Bonds, one of the top five international movies of the year. It's streaming on MUBI in the US, UK and many other countries as we speak. It's a taut 90 minutes and it really ropes you in. Seriously go check it out. And that is our special episode of the MUBI podcast this week. We got one more to come leading up to June, when we'll drop our full season two, which is all about movie theaters that made history and it's shaping up to be very fun. Follow us wherever you get your podcast so you don't miss it. While you're at it, please leave us a five star review. It helps others find and love us. We would love to hear your questions, comments, or what you think of Lingui once you see it. Email us at email@example.com This episode was hosted, written and cut by me, Rico Gagliano. Yuri Suzuki composed the theme music and Martin Austwick composed our reflective midpoint tune. Thanks this time to Michael Lieberman and Abby McNeil. The show's executive produced by me, along with Jon Barranchea Efe Cakarel, Daniel Kasman and Michael Tacca for MUBI. Thanks for listening. Be safe watch movies.