Why I chose this film
Easily the most famous Senegalese film-maker and accredited by many as the father of African film, Ousmane Sembène was an easy choice for director. Moolaadé had been on my watchlist for some time, so I decided that this was the perfect time to watch it.
This marked a milestone in my film viewing in that it was the first African film I had ever seen. After years of watching more Russian and Japanese films than any Scotsman should have business seeing, I found it very interesting to be introduced to a culture completely different from that which I am used to. What could push a Westerner out of their comfort zone more than a film about female circumcision?
Collé is the second of her husband’s three wives. When four young girls who have escaped the “purification” ceremony come to her, she grants them moolaadé (meaning “magical protection” in Bamanankan), which prevents other villagers from entering the lot on pain of divine wrath. Thus begins a political, philosophical and moral battle with her community to protect not only the girls in her trust, but also future generations who would otherwise be subjected to the awful ceremony.
Moolaadé is not a subtle film – but how could it be? Sembène unrelentingly attacks the tradition at any chance he gets, attempting to expose all of its horrors. Whenever the elders are questioned as to the advantages of such an act, they simply reply that it is traditional, or that it is required by Islam (exposed as a complete falsehood by the end of the film). It isn’t unnecessarily graphic, but shows you enough for just your imagination to make some scenes sickening.
The film is beautiful and virtuosic, coming in equal parts from the sweeping shots of the village’s colourful, alien vistas and the just as colourful folk score. These are enhanced by the wonderful garbs worn by the women, making the film a visual and aural pleasure.
Although on the surface Sembène simply deals head on with the subject matter, the themes are far more universal than that. Most anyone will be able to identify with a people held back by pointless tradition and an unwillingness to embrace the future, be it in your country or even within your family.
Moolaadé is a great piece of political and educational film-making, succeeding both as an argument and as visual art. Although some viewers may raise issue with the intensely one-sided view the film takes, or perhaps with the brutality of the subject matter, it is inarguably an important work that will hopefully be observed and taken to heart in years to come.