Moolaadé (15)

Written, Directed and Produced by Ousmane Sembene
Winner: Best Film, Cannes Film Festival 2004
Screened at FACT from 9th-12th September 2005

Reviewed by Marie-Eloise J. Hurley

Deserving WINNER of last year’s Cannes Film festival? Certainly, this gently political drama-doc’ offers a decent first dose of enlightenment through art on the now globally-contentious issues raised. 'MOOLAADE' - pop-capitalised English subtitles explain - means ‘PROTECTION’, both spiritual and physical, from the dangers of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) - at least within the context of remote Senegalese village life. So after decades of political lobbying by activists based here even - in Liverpool, there was in fact always an organic get-out clause for village-isolated girls? Fact or Fiction? How might Moolaadé lead us?

Both easily shot and naturally performed for the sense of real time; real life that Africa’s best pictures have gained recognition for, Moolaadé’s intimate lenses directly reveal clean and cheerful remote domesticity. Only softly, softly, does Sembene squeeze the harmony out of villagers’ shopping, cleaning, laughing, child-rearing routines; with the distant (though urgent) pounding of drums. An Elder Man’s translation to gathered women (‘They are looking for human beings – those who’ve run from purification’) at once chases life into the plot’s primary dilemmas: Female Genital Cutting as a tradition warranting safeguarding? Men as the stubborn holders of knowledge and therefore power?

Heroine 'Collé' - whom the film’s four girl-escapees run to based on a rumour she had successfully guarded her own daughter from the ‘cutting’ ritual - defends the girls against the powers of red-robed female circumcisers whilst demonstrating special strength as she allows a threatened male order to burn every radio in sight whilst publicly flogging her. Viewers, surely, are directed to specify which ‘special’ cultural practices must be condemned as mutilating.

Perhaps most usefully, Sembene allows Collé, to reaffirm confidence in her now teenage daughter Amsatou before the film closes; that remaining uncut makes her no lesser bride potential, even for the village’s gift-bearing Prince, newly returned from France. So despite this treatment’s glossing-over of the prominent role village Matriarchs reportedly play in the continued practice of FGC as well as the film's de-emphasis of modern Senegal’s disassociation with more extreme cuttings and their effects, it seems fair to conclude that Moolaadé delivers a warm and helpful, minimally-voyeuristic contribution to this most silenced subject.

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