Sunday, October 2, 2011
So, today I watched Moolaade, directed by Ousmane Sembène in 2004, I movie that I had never heard of before until today. I didn't really know what to expect. I looked up a short blurb on IMDB and I worried it might be sort of a tear-jerker. I was really pleased that it wasn't. For dealing with a subject as serious as female genital mutilation, this is a bright, moving film. It was just so well made. It didn't focus on the horrors of the subject matter, but more on the characters and how they responded to it. It was quite good, and honestly I guess I feel a little surprised I've never heard this movie talked about before. But I also hear a ton about German and French (and so on) cinema, but not so much (er, not anything) about African cinema. So that could be the problem right there.
The movie, like I said, is about female genital mutilation in Burkina Faso, a very brightly colored village full of interesting buildings and people. Young girls there are circumcised, because otherwise they will never find a husband. Mothers remember the pain of their experiences, and are well aware of the pain they continue to live in from it, but force it upon their daughters because otherwise, they will grow up with no man to support them and be shunned from normal society. Colle, the second wife out of her husband's three wives, is strong, intelligent, and funny. She refused to have her daughter "cut", and soon is providing moolaade (magical protection) to a group of four young girls who don't want to be mutilated. Other girls have died during the procedure, and they are afraid. She stands by them, refusing to listen to her husbands commands, even taking a severe beating as her husband tries to force her to say the secret word that will end the moolaade.
Like I said, I assumed this movie would be really sad, since the subject matter is so incredibly terrible. Just reading the unavoidable description of genital mutilation on Wikipedia on the film's page made my fingers and toes tingle (does anyone else get this when something scares them or grosses them out, like reading about a medical procedure or watching one?). It's awful, and I feel so disgusted and angry that anything like that could ever happen. I was worried the movie would focus on that sort of horror, but it didn't. I mean, there were parts that did - a scene obscured that shows a little girl screaming in terror as she's cut, or another showing that sex is painful (and bloody) for Colle - but they were not over the top. They fit in with the plot, and they were necessary, I thought.
I loved that the film focused more on the characters. On Colle, who was so strong and didn't let anyone stand in her way, or affect her opinion of what she thought was right. There was her daughter who was going to be married, but couldn't be, because she hadn't been mutilated. She asks to be cut, because she doesn't want to be unmarried and outcast. There is Colle's husband, who is pressured to "tame" Colle and force her to conform, even though he has to be forced to take action against her himself. A merchant in town tries to stop him from beating Colle, and he is driven out of the village and murdered. The other women, after time passes, confess to Colle that they didn't want their daughters cut either. And there is Ibrahima, back in the village after living in France, with fresh eyes as he observes the practices around him.
I thought the movie did a great job of being uplifting without being too saccharine, of showing how terrible this practice is without being horrifying. It's filmed so well, full of bright colors and with an interesting soundtrack. I can't decide if the movie is supposed to be just a story, or if it's supposed to be raising awareness of a social issue, but that doesn't take away from the fact that it's an awesome movie. It's more about conformity and non-conformity, it seemed at many points. I appreciated that it had sympathy, too, for all of the characters. I felt like I could understand the different points of view, and that the director never villainized anyone. It takes a lot of skill to tackle an issue like this and not use stereotypes or prejudice, to give both sides of the issue a voice - a real feat when you deal with an issue like this that can provoke really strong emotional reactions in people.
It's somehow taken me all night to write this post, and I should probably call it a night if I'm going to try to find time to watch yesterday's movie tomorrow. I really think this is a great film, and somehow doesn't feel heavy or hard to watch despite it's subject matter. A lot of skill and talent went into making this movie, and it deserves attention and recognition.
Have any thoughts on Moolaade? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Moolaade
Buy it on Amazon