Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Thursday October 3, 2019 


In a West African village, a group of young girls refuses to take part in the ritual of 'purification' or genital circumcision. Those who remain in the village take shelter with Colle Gallo Ardo Sy (Fatoumata Coulibaly), who has refused to have her own daughter cut, and who puts them under a spell of protection or 'moolaadé'. Soon Colle incurs the anger of the village elders as well as the Salidana, a group of women entrusted with performing the 'purification' ceremony.

Review by Jake Wilson:
There are moments when this agitprop drama feels almost too close to crowd-pleasing formula to be taken seriously, particularly since few Western viewers are likely to need convincing about the evils of genital mutilation. At the climax, progressive and conservative forces are literally lined up against each other in the village square; no action movie could make it clearer which side we're meant to cheer, though the ensuing battle is fought less with conventional weapons than with communal chanting and snappy one-liners ('It takes more than a set of balls to make a man.')

Still, the 82-year-old Senegalese director and novelist Ousmane Sembene is hardly Oprah Winfrey. While the film is easy to watch, it's a challenge for the critic to get a handle on its apparently straightforward yet engrossing style. The trick could be a storytelling technique that draws with absolute confidence on already-established meanings, in a traditional society where every encounter has the clarity of ritual. Thus there's no clearcut distinction between public and private spaces or roles; wherever they're placed, characters are always pointing their fingers at each other, or rising before they make a speech.

Though the act of mutilation itself isn't shown, a number of violent confrontations and a crucial sex scene suggest how the struggle between modernity and tradition is fought out physically on individual bodies. But there's a further trick or irony here, deriving from Sembene's deep ambivalence towards practices and beliefs which threaten the weak and innocent but also aid them. If female circumcision serves no practical purpose, the age-old power of the Moolaade is equally symbolic: in a running gag of sorts, we repeatedly see how easily the physical rope barrier is breached by unimportant beings like toddlers and chickens.

Sembene's ultimate loyalty to tradition likewise comes through in his use of archetypes, as if he were more interested in power struggles than psychology (the most fully-drawn character is also the most Westernised, the lecherous peddler Mercenaire). The occasional moments of subjective fantasy are also crucial, but they're used less to reveal the minds of individuals than to move the film closer towards fairy tale - as in the startling early shot where the red-robed Salidana become inhuman figures wearing wooden masks, emerging from the mist.

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(Senegal/France/Burkina Faso/Cameroon/Morocco/Tunisia)

CAST: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Hélène Diarra, Salimata Traoré, Dominique Zeïda, Mah Compaoré, Aminata Dao

PRODUCER: Ousmane Sembene

DIRECTOR: Ousmane Sembene

SCRIPT: Ousmane Sembene


EDITOR: Abdellatif Raïss

MUSIC: Boncana Naiga


RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes



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