Rodrigue and Reine are a devout Catholic couple living in Bangui with their three children. Their lives are overshadowed by a dark secret; both of them have AIDS. The disease is highly taboo in their community. In his sermons, their pastor calls it a punishment from God, not knowing of the illness of his active parishioners.
The Central African Republic is a country less known for its film production and more for the violent regime of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, who declared himself emperor in the 1970s, as well as the Wagner troops that have taken to the country. Elvis Sabin Ngaïbino has been described as one of the few active and locally trained filmmakers in the Republic. His first film, Makongo, won the award of best international film at Docpoint in 2021.
In The Burden, Sabin Ngaïbino’s subjects are his cousin and his cousin’s wife. The director, who is himself a devout Catholic, documents the lives of people living in a deeply religious country with respect and minimal commentary. Still, much can be read between the lines. Superstitious beliefs persist; we hear a child explain to the priest how they ate his grandfather while practicing witchcraft. People rely on God to heal the disabled, and the COVID vaccine is rumored to kill those with AIDS. A woman, no matter how devout, cannot become a priest. However, we witness a glimmer of hope, as Rodrigue and Reine decide to speak publicly about their illness, giving a face to the disease.
Joonatan Nikkinen (translated by Mira Sairanen)