Family ties are tested in 2 captivating international films

Ninety-two films were submitted for the International Feature Oscar this year, competing for just five slots. That leaves a lot of movies, many of them great, that didn’t get nominated. The two I’m recommending this week may seem to have little in common – one is from Belgium, the other from Chad – but they’re both deeply gripping stories about the strength of family ties in a hostile environment.

The brilliant Belgian drama Playground is set in an elementary school where we meet a sensitive 7-year-old girl named Nora, played by Maya Vanderbeque in one of the most extraordinary children’s performances I’ve seen recently. Nora goes to school with her older brother, Abel, and she soon learns that he is being brutally bullied by some of his classmates.

Nora tries to help, but Abel warns her not to tell anyone – not the teachers, or the school administrators, or even their father. Abel fears that any adult intervention will solve the problem and make him just a bigger target.

The first writer-director Laura Wander holds as much as it reveals: The story takes place over several weeks, but we never leave the school grounds or see anything of Nora’s home life. We are completely immersed in her everyday school experience, and we only see and hear what she sees and hears. The camera stays at Nora’s eye level throughout, as if to get closer to a child’s perspective. The adults bend over her, their heads severed from the top of the frame, as if to suggest how oblivious they are to what is going on.

Abel becomes a laughing stock, humiliated by his tormentors and soon teased by everyone else. And before long, he learns the terrible lesson that one way to stop being bullied is to become a bully yourself. All of this puts enormous pressure on Nora, and Vanderbeque captures her inner struggle with heartbreaking effect: will she walk away from her brother to save face, or will she find a way to help him? The film resolves this tension in a way that is both hopeful and despairing. It also made me think intensely of my own 5-year-old and the daily cruelties children inflict on each other in playgrounds around the world.

The magnificent blow Lingui, the sacred bonds also focuses on a secret that a child is reluctant to share with his parents. But this time, the story is told from the parents’ point of view. Amina, played by Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, is a practicing Muslim who lives with her 15-year-old daughter, Maria, in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Maria, it turns out, is pregnant and expelled from her school.

Amina herself was just a teenager when she gave birth to Maria, and being a young single mother cost her dearly; even now people look down on her and she has been cut off from the rest of her family. Hoping to avoid a similar fate, Maria wants an abortion, and Amina agrees to help her.

On time Lingui, The Sacred Bonds might remind you of dramas like 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days Where Never Rarely Sometimes Always, which also deal with a young woman’s struggles to end a pregnancy. But it’s not as dark or clinical as those films – partly because the director, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, has such a vibrant eye for color and texture, as evidenced by the gorgeous dresses Amina wears. Haroun may be illuminating a real-world issue, but he’s also made a visually lush melodrama about how women survive in a strictly religious, male-dominated community.

We meet some of these men, like the local imam who scolds Amina for skipping prayer meetings or the older merchant who repeatedly asks Amina to marry him. But as the film progresses, Amina finds strength and solidarity in unexpected places, and it’s thrilling to watch her renew the “sacred bonds” that bind her to other women in her community. No less than Playground, Lingui is a story of fighting back – and a moving reminder that we are never as alone as we think.

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DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:

It’s FRESH AIR. Our film critic, Justin Chang, recommends two films that were submitted for this year’s Oscar race for international feature films and are now in theaters. Belgian film ‘Playground’ looks at rampant bullying at a primary school and a Chadian drama titled ‘Lingui, The Sacred Bonds’ follows a woman trying to arrange an illegal abortion for her teenage daughter. Here is Justin’s review.

JUSTIN CHANG, BYLINE: Ninety-two films were submitted for the International Feature Film Oscar this year, competing for just five slots. That leaves a lot of movies, many of them great, that didn’t get nominated. The two I recommend this week may seem to have little in common. One is from Belgium, the other from Chad, but both are gripping stories about the strength of family ties in a hostile environment.

The brilliant Belgian drama “Playground” is set in a primary school where we meet a sensitive 7-year-old girl named Nora, played by Maya Vanderbeque in one of the most extraordinary children’s performances I’ve seen recently. Nora goes to school with her older brother, Abel, and she soon learns that he is being brutally bullied by some of his classmates. Nora tries to help, but Abel warns her not to tell anyone – not the teachers, or the school administrators, or even their father. Abel fears that any adult intervention will solve the problem and make him just a bigger target.

First-time writer-director Laura Wandel holds back as much as she reveals. The story takes place over several weeks, but we never leave the school grounds or see anything of Nora’s home life. We are completely immersed in her everyday school experience, and we only see and hear what she sees and hears. The camera stays at Nora’s eye level throughout, as if to get closer to a child’s perspective. The adults bend over her, their heads severed from the top of the frame, as if to suggest how oblivious they are to what is going on.

Abel becomes a laughing stock, humiliated by his tormentors and soon teased by everyone else. And before long, he learns the terrible lesson that one way to stop being bullied is to become a bully yourself. All of this puts enormous pressure on Nora, and Vanderbeque captures her inner struggle to heartbreaking effect. Will she walk away from her brother to save face or will she find a way to help him? The film resolves this tension in a way that is both hopeful and despairing. It also made me think intensely of my own 5-year-old and the daily cruelties children inflict on each other in playgrounds around the world.

The magnificent film “Lingui, the Sacred Bonds” is also centered on a secret that a child is reluctant to share with his parents. But this time, the story is told from a parent’s perspective. Amina, played by Achouackh Abakar Souleymane, is a practicing Muslim who lives with her 15-year-old daughter Maria in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad. Maria, it turns out, is pregnant and expelled from her school. Amina herself was just a teenager when she gave birth to Maria, and being a young single mother cost her dearly. Even now people look down on her and she has been cut off from the rest of her family. Hoping to avoid a similar fate, Maria wants an abortion, and Amina agrees to help her.

Sometimes “Lingui, the Sacred Bonds” may remind you of dramas like “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” or “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” both of which deal with a young woman’s struggles to end a pregnancy. . But it’s not as dark or clinical as those films, in part because the director, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, has such a vibrant eye for color and texture, as evidenced by the gorgeous dresses Amina wears.

Haroun may be illuminating a real-world issue, but he’s also made a visually lush melodrama about how women survive in a strictly religious, male-dominated community. We meet some of these men, like the local imam who scolds Amina for skipping prayer meetings or the older merchant who repeatedly asks Amina to marry him. But as the film progresses, Amina finds strength and solidarity in unexpected places, and it’s thrilling to watch her renew the sacred bonds that bind her to other women in her community. No less than “Playground”, “Lingui” is a story of fighting back and a moving reminder that we are never as alone as we think.

BIANCULLI: Justin Chang is a film critic for the LA Times. He reviewed “Playground” and “Lingui, The Sacred Bonds”. On Monday’s show, China’s influence on Hollywood – how China censored American movies and rewarded and punished American movie studios. This is the price Hollywood pays for access to Chinese audiences. Interview with Erich Schwartzel, author of the new book “Red Carpet: Hollywood, China And The Global Battle For Cultural Supremacy”. Hope you can join us.

The executive producer of FRESH AIR is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional technical support from Joyce Lieberman, Julian Herzfeld and Al Banks. For Terry Gross, I’m David Bianculli.

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Darcy J. Skinner