We cannot cut ourselves off from the progress of the world.

An interesting opportunity is afforded us with the addition of Ousmane Sembene’s recent film Moolaade to the list. Normally, for a “third-world” film country or under-represented director, the list has a single film, usually during the heyday or birth of the director’s career, and that’s all we have to judge them on. Now, with Moolaade, which was released a scant ten years ago, we have a more modern example with which to compare Sembene’s earlier film Ceddo with. It just so happens that the film deals with a particularly touchy subject, that of female genital mutilation, referred to in countries that practice it as “purification”, and if you don’t fully understand what either of those terms mean, consider yourself fortunate, and I will spare you further elaboration.

Colle is the second wife to one of the male elders of her village, who has undergone the purification procedure herself, as well as lost two children to complications from the procedure; the third only being saved via Caesarian section. Knowing full well the pain and the dangers involved, she has refused to let her surviving daughter undergo the procedure, which unfortunately for the now-of-age daughter means that no man in the village will be willing to marry her. All this comes to a head when four girls escape the religious sect that performs the ritual and seek shelter in Colle’s household, to which Colle ultimately agrees, and, knowing the religious doctrines and practices of the sect, ties a string across her doorway, meant to evoke the sacred protection of “moolaade”; none of the religious folk may pass the barrier in order to get back the girls until the moolaade is over. First off, picking up where I left off in the opener; comparing this film to Ceddo, Sembene has definitely made progress. He has better equipment, and is thus able to capture more diverse and interesting shots than he previously was. Also, his sense of filmmaking has improved, and the film is cut together rather well, in a modern fashion, which was unexpected from a country such as Senegal, which isn’t exactly known for its cinematic contributions. Now, that said, there was a great deal about this film that didn’t work for me. For instance, the whole central concept of the film was a little confusing. The point of the moolaade, the string across the doorway, is so that none are able to cross it, yet we see certain characters doing exactly that throughout the whole film, and it is never laid out why they are free from persecution for crossing the line as opposed to the particular characters who are not. Also, the storyline itself was told in an extremely disjointed manner. For reference, I followed the Wikipedia article’s plot summary for this film, mostly due to the fact that I could barely keep up with the plot, at least as far as Wikipedia was concerned; the film seemed to gloss over or completely skip certain plot points that the Wikipedia summary apparently had no trouble in picking up on and including, and the points that were included, the film would occasionally spend an inordinate amount of time on, to the point that I began to wonder what was supposed to be important or not. Really, the Summary of the plot is a heck of a lot more complete than the plot in the actual film, which frustrated me, since I tried to watch the film on its own merits and only relied on the Wikipedia article when I had no clue what was going on or, more frequently, why the plot seemed to have skipped something important or why certain characters were now acting differently even though it seemed that nothing significant had happened.

Even through the oft-frustrating nature of the plot, this was still pretty enjoyable. The subject matter will probably turn away more than a few people, but it is not graphic or gratuitous in the film itself; it merely provides the impetus to explore what the film really wants to explore, which is the role of women in African life, the power of free speech and information in the face of dogmatic ideology, and the notion of regressing backwards as a culture instead of moving forward. If that doesn’t seem interesting to you, and neither does the possibility of exploring or indulging a little bit in a third-world culture, then Moolaade will likely not be your thing. But, for me, I was at the very least pleased I had seen it, which is more than I can say for a number of list films, so that’s a point in the Pros column for me.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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