Movie Review: Moolaadé

By Joan K. Widdifield, Psy.D
Movie Magazine International
"Moolade" is a story about the struggle between traditional views, fueled by fear and ignorance, and a progressive position informed by knowledge and humanity. Eighty-one year-old writer-director Ousmane Sembene is called African cinema’s founding father. His legacy of creating works with feminist consciousness continues with this film about the female "purification" ceremony. Sembene explores the nuances of the issue in an evocative way.

Four girls escape from a nearby village and seek the protection from a woman, Colle, who they hear has a teenage girl who never went through the purification ceremony. Colle agrees to help them. She invokes a traditional spell called "Moolaade" that will cause harm to anyone who tries to violate the girls while they are under her care. A length of colored yarn tied across the entrance to Colle’s house signifies this. Colle is the only one who can break this spell; the men of the village and women from the other village where the escaped girls are from are enraged. Colle’s husband is put in a delicate position with the male village leaders who want him to control her and make her comply with their ideas.

The purification ceremony, or female genital mutilation, is an ancient and widespread tribal ritual dating to before Mohammed and before Jesus to the times of Heredotes. A pre-teen girl, sometimes as early as age four, undergoes a painful operation which mutilates her genitals and diminishes sexual drive. The ritual is considered a cleansing that keeps a girl pure for her future husband and loyal to him after she marries.

The characters are multidimensional and psychologically accurate. The forward-thinking man in the village who supports the women against the purification ceremony is educated and worldly. He does business abroad in France, and listens to the radio. The village leaders see the advent of the radio as a threat to their way of life, and burn a pile of them. The village is torn apart by differences of opinion and neither side is willing to budge. The women who want change are forced to suffer and fight for what they want.

"Moolade" is written with soulfulness and humanity; but sometimes the dialog is perfunctory. The acting is adequate, and some of the characters get under your skin. It is a rare treat to get a two-hour glimpse into Senegal culture and the lives the Senegalese people; it’s an enlightening cross-cultural foray into a world in which the girls still have to fight to keep their bodies intact. The director uses the symbolism of a 1,000 year-old ostrich egg sitting at the top of the village mosque as a metaphor for the durability of tradition. The end of the film closes with an artistic shot of the egg.

In San Francisco this is Joan Widdifield for Movie Magazine.
More Information:
Running time: 124 minutes/Unrated/in Bambara with English subtitles