Sunday, April 06, 2008


Moolaade (Ousamane Sembene, 2004) [8]
Sembene's final film was also the one film of his that really gained any sort of significance in upon its release in America. That it took three years to find it on DVD caused me to lose some of the initial interest I had in it when I first heard about it. The main reason the film got much more attention than all of Sembene's other films was the subject matter: the controversy over female genital manipulation that is practiced in some African nations. The subject arouses interest because in regards to Western thought, this is thought of pretty much a black and white issue, with all cultures condemning the barbaric principle of "purification." Sembene's achievement is that he doesn't reduce the argument to something this simple but instead takes into account the traditions and being respectful to these cultures while still condemning the practice. The argument is framed obviously along gender lines as Colle attempts to keep a group of girls from being cut while also attempting to convince not just the men but the women of the village. Sembene clearly has an acute understanding of what he's talking about because he never panders to the West and make the picture about outrage. There's a deliberate showing of the patriarchal societies that these cultures build up as another subplot involves a son of one of the village elders attempting to disobey his father and marry Colle's daughter. I feel that the film uses female circumcision as its main theme but it also lends itself to a greater discussion about the conflict between the past and modernization in Africa. Female circumcision is just another example of the traditions under threat (at least to the male elders) that is being thrust upon them as Africa modernizes socially and economically. The point with the radios, that the men refuse to let the women have radios because they're bringing messages that are causing Colle and the others to question the traditions is a brilliant way of showing this. The character of Mercenaire is another example of this, a man convinced by capitalism and nothing else. His disregard for traditions and obedience eventually end up badly for him. Sembene clearly is no fan of these ideas and practices but he has the great sense to handle them smartly and understand the arguments rather than just blanket assessments.

Moolaade also looks fantastic, capturing the colorful dress and landscapes of the African landscape. Sembene's captures it all unobtrusively and creates some fantastic shots and scenes, especially the beginning and end. There's a reason that he's considered the father of African cinema.

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