Moolaade provides a glimpse into a type of female repression that still takes place throughout the world. The plot provides talking points for the challenges that Africa faces at large, and in this way, it represents the lifelong work of a director who dedicated himself to enlighten the world about African society. Much like Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaade has the heart of film that entertains and the soul of social commentary.
- Director: Ousmane Sembène
- Writer: Ousmane Sembène
- Cast: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Dominique Zeïda, Théophile Sowié, Salimata Traoré
Deep within Senegal, Colle (Fatoumata Coulibaly) has had enough of female circumcision. Many of the elders in her village believe this practice to be a necessary “purification” for all young woman, including many of the mothers themselves. Much of the village is Muslim, leading also to the wrongful belief that such genital mutilation is mandated by Allah. A clash of traditional and more modern perspectives ensues when a group of young women escape this ritual and seek protection from Colle, who is determined to risk her life in order to provide these girls from being cut.
Although the subject matter is serious, Moolaade introduces us to a village where people are still capable of facing life with a sense of humor and optimism. Beyond the humanity conveyed, the film is brought to life with vibrant colors and gorgeous cinematography. Not only is the village located in a remote region, news and information from the outside world is very limited. There is an innocence conveyed, especially when we learn that t.v. and radio are prohibited for the women in the village, as it corrupts their minds and introduces notions of equality.
Considering the isolation and repression of these young women, director Sembène establishes a convincing village environment in which major cultural transitions are taking place and patriarchal traditions are being questioned. To begin with, Collé is the second of her husband’s three wives, an indication of repressed gender roles. Meanwhile, Ibrahima (Théophile Sowié), the son of a village elder, has just returned from France and is set to marry a young village girl. However, his father rejects this potential marriage because the girl is not “purified”. Instead, Ibrahima is asked to marry Amasatou (Salimata Traoré), who is “purified” but is only 11 years old. As such, Ibrahima becomes increasingly aware of how village traditions can be characterized by violence, repression and pedophilia. To further convey a lack of exposure to modern life, when a traveling street vendor named Mercenaire (Dominique Zeïda) stops by the village, much of his ordinary merchandise is met with wonder. Such excitement is both endearing and sad. After reading about Ousmane Sembène’s life, one gets the sense that much of the perspective he gained through life experiences in Africa can be understood within his films. On the surface, his films may have a simple plot, but within the subtext, a finer understanding of life is gained. He is not only an inspiration, he is an informant to the rest of us about global issues that exist in relative obscurity.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
Mr. Ebert, I think the opening paragraph of your review best encapsulates what is rare about this film, “a story vibrating with urgency and life. It makes a powerful statement and at the same time contains humor, charm and astonishing visual beauty.” Colle’s resistance sheds light on the type of repression and abuse that takes place throughout Africa. Many of the public discussions are reminiscent of the type of cultural tension that occurs in Kurosawa movies, where tribal authorities publicly attempt to uphold tradition. In justifying their views ad nauseum, they reveal the ridiculousness of it all. I am intrigued by your introduction of the fact that Sembene’s stories are not the tales of isolated characters. Instead, they exist within a society which observes and comments, and sometimes gets involved. As you mention, this is an important film in many respects, but to say so would definitely repel movie-goers who tremble at the thought of watching a film that might make them think. But Moolaade is special in that it manages to both entertain and teach. Several times I had thought to myself, “should I be a enjoying a film about female circumcision?” However, I find myself in agreement that the film’s details are “established not in the mood of a dreary ethnographic docudrama, but with great energy and life.”
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like Moolaade? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: The Circus
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Ousmane Sembène’s Moolaade this week, he now has 303 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.