Moolaadé – Senegal/France – Dir: Ousmane Sembene – 4.5/5
(This is the review I did when I saw the film at the 2005 Sydney Film Festival.)

Here’s another amazing film from Africa about strong women – see my review of Sisters-in-Law (Sydney Film Festival, 2005).  It is made by one of Africa’s elder statesmen of film, and it is gorgeous to look at.  But it is about a tough issue:  female genital mutilation, or ‘female castration’. This is referred to throughout the film as ‘Cutting’ or ‘Purification’ – depending on who’s talking about it.

The men call it a ‘minor domestic issue’.  The women – actually, one woman in particular – know it is a huge issue.  Brilliantly, she uses one of the village’s traditions (or superstitions?) to protect the girls who are due for the mutilation/ purification.  She invokes ‘Moolaadé’, putting up a thin rope as a barrier that the men (and other hostile people) cannot pass.  But this is not a magical barrier.  It depends on belief and obedience, much like the tradition of ‘Purification’ itself. Goats, dogs & chickens all hop over the barrier. It even looks like a female goat escapes a mounting male by coming inside the barrier!

In fact, ‘Purification’ is not an ancient tradition, as Moolaadé itself is.  It is more recent in origin.  That point is made eloquently

The leading actress, our heroine, is scarred.  Not only has she been ‘cut’, she has had a Caesarean – and we see those scars.  We can only imagine the others.

The women rely on their radios for connection with the outside world (the film is set in rural Burkina Faso).  The men confiscate the women’s radios as punishment for their rebellion.  The piled-up radios form the end of a great image as the camera pans from the Mosque, to the anthill, to the pile of radios.  And the radios are all playing different music.  

Only one man stands up for the women – and it is not the man expected.  He’s run him out of town (and killed off camera).  It is all rather abrupt, but all the more shocking for it.

Surprisingly, here’s a film that positions TV & radio as a force for good!  For education. For communication.  The films ends on a shot of a TV aerial.  There’s hope still for these people.  Stunningly unusual