Thursday, November 24, 2005


The word "circumcision" alone is enough to make most people squirm, but when the adjective "female" is placed uncomfortably in front of it, it is sufficiently disturbing for many people to excuse themselves from the conversation or to quickly change the subject. This is one thing which makes Senegalese director, Ousmane Sembene's, Moolaade so outstanding. He manages to inject the serious topic of female circumcision with a certain amount of humour which, I would argue, is no easy feat.
In a small village in Burkina Faso, a group of young girls are about to undergo their circumcision. Two girls run away while four others seek protection from Fatoumata Coulibaly (Collé Gallo Ardo Sy), a woman who refused to have her daughter circumcised seven years earlier. Fatoumata's own botched circumcision forces her to suffer greatly during intercourse and also forced her to deliver her only child by Caesarean Section.
I spent much of the movie trying to figure out what Moolaade meant. I found that my uncertainty of the meaning of this word and my own cultural disorientation made this movie that much more engaging. Without giving the full meaning of the word, Moolaade is the reason a Muslim African woman can stand up to the elders of her village. This is one of the many delights of the movie, a woman using ancient tradition against ancient tradition.
Ousmane Sembene has created a brilliant film on the clash of modernity and tradition and the battle of tradition against the forces of globalization. His conclusions, rooted in a feminist veneer and an inevitable, but African-tinged, concession to progress might surprise some. Sembene's movie leaves the viewer with much to think about. If one watches the movie and concludes that it is merely a cinematographic condemnation of female circumcision then they were not paying attention. Sembene deftly manipulates the plot, leaving images that will not leave your memory for some time. The image of a large pile of chattering radios burning in front of an ancient mosque could not be lost on even the most dwarse audience member. Although there are a few out there --- some of the sour reviews at caused me to scratch my head. I mean, I find it disingenous to harp on the poor plot development of the movie while admitting that you only watched half of the movie.
The movie is not graphic at all, and yet the mere sight of the short blades used to perform the act caused me extreme discomfort. The terrified yelps of a suffering girl made me cringe as did the explanation of why she could not urinate. The movie itself has little explanation on the procedure, but a young woman I watched the movie with was able to offer some helpful and nauseating details. I admit I knew little about female circumcision before the movie, but perhaps the occasional educational commentary from said young woman changed the overall impact of the film for me.
Some of the acting in the movie is poor but the major characters are believable while the principle character, Fatoumata, shines. This movie received rave reviews and deservedly so, in my opinion. The colourful cinematography is entrancing and the cultural exposition is enthralling.
Having been exposed to Sembene's work, I would like to watch some of his earlier work.


PietHarsevoort said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this film that can and should change the world. I watched it shortly after hearing a presentation from a family friend who was on furlough after spending three years doing mission and relief work in Mali for the CRWRC. He spoke about female circumcision, that 94 percent of women in Mali undergo this brutal treatment and suffer from its serious after-effects the rest of their lives. He mentioned that it is a difficult issue to tackle, simply because there are no proper anatomical terms available to describe the female sexual organs. The only vocabulary that applies is made up of foul language.

Thus, the beauty of Moolaade is that it can begin a dialogue about female circumcision. Indeed, from what I hear Sembene's work almost always has a political or sociological thrust.

PietHarsevoort said...

John: have you seen Whale Rider? Within the Maori culture, it too confronts similar issues of progress and tradition with a "feminist veneer". A fine film, with what may be the greatest child performance I've ever seen.

John den Boer said...

Interesting about the vocabulary issue.

I have not seen Whale Rider, but I will add it to my ever-expanding list of movies to see.

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