Review: Moolaade (2004)

This film by the “father of African cinema” about a woman who defies her community’s “purification” ritual when she gives sanctuary to four little girls is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

Moolaade_poWhen this Cannes Film Festival winner is released on DVD, you’ll be getting a reminder from me that you need to add it to your Netflix queue. Do not let the subject matter scare you out of one of the most rewarding film experiences of the year.

Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene is considered the father of African cinema and it’s amazing to think that he was 81 when this film was released. His films often deal with social issues; Moolaade is no exception. Set in a small African village, the film centers on a woman named Colle who gives refuge to four girls who run away from the circumcision ceremony that is a rite of passage in their community.

Colle invokes “moolaade” and tribal elders are helpless to force her to give the girls up, unless she says the word. Even her husband can’t get her to give in, which causes discord in the community. Wives and mothers take a stand and their husbands react by taking away their radios (radios and what they symbolize figure prominently.) Colle’s action jeopardizes her eldest daughter’s marriage to the wealthy tribal leader as well.

At times humorous, disturbing, and heart-wrenching, Moolaade is a very personal story, fascinating for its unusual setting and story and yet very universal in its treatment of relationships: women squabbling and uniting, mothers and daughters, men and women, tradition vs. progress, the powerful and the empowered.

In the same way that Hotel Rwanda was hailed as the harrowing true story to see, so should people be encouraged to see Moolaade. [*****]

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