Interview with Achouackh Abakar (from “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds”)

VHS CUT had the opportunity to interview Achouackh Abakar, the lead actress from the Chadian film ‘Lingui, The Sacred Bonds‘. The film follows the story of Amina, a religious woman who finds herself in a difficult situation when her daughter gets pregnant. In order to save her daughter’s life, Amina does everything possible to help her to get an abortion. The film shows the safety nets that is sisterhood. This is her second film with the director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun.

The interview begins.

Vitor: “I want to start by saying I’m really happy for this opportunity. ‘Lingui‘ has been on my radar since its premiere at the Cannes last year and when MUBI brought the film to the São Paulo Film Festival I wasn’t able to attend it because of my schedule, so I only watched it this week and being able to interview you is a gift.”

Achouackh: You’re welcome.

Vitor: “When I was studying for this interview I came across the fact you lived in California for ten years. How do you think the perception around abortion is different from California to Chad.”

Achouackh: “In Chad besides the fact that it’s illegal it’s also forbidden by religion. It’s a taboo. In America at least people are free, but here (in Chad) we live in a society where when you are not married you can’t be pregnant. Amina got pregnant when she was sixteen years old and they threw her out of the house and she had to live and raise her baby alone while people didn’t respect her. She never got married because she had a baby out of marriage. Society says it is not okay and the law says it’s not okay, so if you abort you are an outcast, you are alone and that’s what he [Mahamat] was showing, the bonds between women because only them can understand this situation.”

Vitor: “The scene that made the whole movie for me is the title sequence with Amina’s sister. You can see she’s been hurt before, you can see she felt the absence of her family in her life, but when she sees her sister asking for help she puts any kind of pride aside and just bursts into tears. It’s very powerful. But when her sister approached her do you think she was trying to pretend that she didn’t bother or she was just mad?”

Achouackh: “In the first scene she was mad but when she realizes her sister has a problem with her daughter it’s like they are living in the same situation, so she understands they are not just sisters, they are mothers, so their relationship changed from that and they helped each other.”

Vitor: “I know that you made another film with Mahamat in the past and I know it’s a heavy subject so maybe knowing the director can help, but do you think the connection between you two helped to shape the movie?”

Achouackh: “Yes, because I’m not a professional actor, I never took any acting classes or anything like that. I met him in 2012 when he was doing his movie ‘Grigris‘. I did the costumes and then 8 years later when he was casting for Amina’s role I said I wanted to do it and he did the casting. He knew I wasn’t a professional actress, so he took his time to explain to me what he was expecting. We started shooting the movie after I had just given birth, my boy was just 2 months old, so he explained to me that he just wanted the emotions. He told me not to worry about the whole “acting” thing and that I should just try to be in character and feel everything as a mother. So every time before shooting he would tell me what we were gonna do that day and what was expected from me. My daughter from the film (Rihane Khalil Alio) went to stay in my house a few weeks before we started, so she was with me and my two kids together and we kinda started knowing each other and she became one of my children and it just became natural. So it was great and he made it easier.”

Vitor: “You look very professional. I was just going to say he made the whole film just for you. The cinematography is great but specifically the close-up shots on you were just stunning and it’s kind of every actor’s wish to have a role like that. But the first film that came into my mind when I watched it was “Never Rarely Sometimes Always”. I know it’s different because in some America’s states abortion is legal, so even if it’s not a good situation it’s better than what happens in Chad. Did you get to watch that?”

Achouackh: “No but I just read a lot of comparisons between the two movies.”

Vitor: “You said you weren’t professional but did you prepare for the role or you just went to work naturally?”

Achouackh: “The first thing I learned was how to make the kanoun. A guy who makes it would come every day for six weeks and he would show me step by step and I made a little one. So I had to learn how to make it. It was very funny and very interesting, and then it was also very interesting to know the life of all these women that walk down the street selling fruits or selling clothes. After that movie every time I see one of these women I understand that they are doing that because they have to, and this is what I like about Amina, because we see a strong woman working to take care of her daughter and when she found herself in that situation she did her best to save her daughter from having the same life that she did. She wants a better life for her. We see all the bonds between women, we see them helping each other because in this society you have the men that have their life apart, so sometimes you have the men who are the lead of the family not knowing about the little things that make life what it is, like the little problems with kids and stuff like that because that becomes the mother’s fault. Mahamat actually wanted to give me the sister’s role but I said “No, I want to play Amina” because I just wanted to show this part of a strong woman, and Amina shows how women can be strong even if they are poor and in a difficult place where everything is ruled by men.”

Vitor: “And just because I’m very curious, what was your favorite film from last year? If you had the chance to watch that many films.”

Achouackh: “I watched a lot of films last year, but my favorite was ‘Farha‘ by Darin Samallan. It’s about the war in palestine. I watched it at the Aswan International Women Film Festival in Egypt.”