Moolaadé (2004) World Cinema Series – Senegal

I used to read a lot of African literature and watched a lot of documentaries as well but hardly any full-length movies at all. I had completely forgotten that Sembène Ousmane wasn’t only a great writer but also a highly acclaimed film director if Tom (Wuthering Expectations) hadn’t reminded me. I tried to find some of his movies and found the last film he made before his death.

Moolaadé is an exciting movie because it offers such an awesome combination of different elements. It is life-affirming, optimistic, critical, humanist and very esthetic at the same time.

Moolaadé is a movie about female circumcision, tradition, change and the status of women in a polygamous, patriarchal society. One cannot watch this movie without being profoundly disturbed but it’s thought-provoking and not depressing at all.

One day, four little girls, seek refuge in the compound of Collé. She is the favourite and second wife of her husband. It is known that her daughter is the only girl in the whole village who hasn’t been circumcised. Her daughter is the fiancé of the eldest son of the village chief who has studied in Paris and is soon to come home. Collé knows that there will be conflict if she shelters the girls. In order to protect them she pronounces Moolaadé, magical protection. As long as one person grants another one Moolaadé the person cannot be touched or the consequences would be fatal. In order to show that Moolaadé is at work, a coloured rope is tied over the entrance of the compound.

The uproar in the village is incredible. They threaten Collé but to no avail until her husband returns and they force him to whip her in public until she revokes the Moolaadé. She remains steadfast and is, at the end, helped by an outsider, a travelling salesman.

Moolaadé shows what a trap circumcision is. The girls know how painful it is, even lethal and that many will never be able to give birth without Cesarean section. Sex will always be agony for them. Still the men do not want to marry a woman who isn’t “purified”. The girls are afraid that they will never find a husband but even more afraid to be maimed for life.

The way the movie shows how horrible circumcision is, is well-done. We don’t see anything but what we see is enough to illustrate it. The most problematic figures in the film are the women who perform the circumcision. They are truly scary.

The strength of the movie however isn’t only to show all the aspects, beliefs, traditions and conflicting interests related to circumcision but to show a way, a solution. The women decide to not accept the horrors done to their bodies anymore. In the movie it’s the act of one courageous woman, who decides to break with tradition, who triggers a wave of change.

It’s a disturbing movie but it’s optimistic as well. There are not only  frustrating but a lot of comical moments too.

Western cinema, with a few exceptions seems to have forgotten that film making can be a means to trigger change, that there could be more to art than entertainment, that being engaged is an important value. Moolaadé reminded me of all this and much more.

It’s precisely movies like Moolaadé that I had in mind when I started the World Cinema Series. Movies that open a door to a world we hardly know. I liked it a lot and am pretty sure it will be one of my favourite movies this year.

Moolaadé is also a contribution to Richard’s Foreign Film Festival.

23 thoughts on “Moolaadé (2004) World Cinema Series – Senegal

  1. Thank you so much for this review! I used to read a lot of African literature as well, but strangely haven’t seen too many movies from that vast and beautiful continent. I am searching for this movie even as I type it – lovely review.

    • Thank you Soulmuser. I hope you can find it. I would like to watch more African movies now but it will not be so easy to find them. I hope you return and tell me how you liked it.

      • I did watch this last night, and it was worth it! Thanks for recommending this! Like you said – it was profoundly touching and uplifting at the same time.

        • You are welcome. I’m so glad you liked it and felt the same about it. I thought it was a real achievement to manage to show this realistically and still give hope. There should be more movies like this.

  2. This looks like a powerful movie, Caroline. I remember reading a memoir many years back about a Somalian woman who had to undergo circumcision and who found things so tough in her village that she made plans to escape from her village. I can’t remember the name of this book or the author, but I remember being powerfully moved by it. I know this movie will make difficult viewing, but I want to watch it sometime. Thanks for the wonderful review, and for introducing wonderful movies like this to us.

    • Thanks, Vishy, you are welcome, I hope you will give it a try one day. It is a powerful, very well done movie and Istill extremely uplifting, despite the horrible theme. I laughed a few times.
      Maybe you have read Waris Dirie’s book, I’ve read that as well and it was soo sad.

      • Wow! You are awesome! Yes it was Waris Dirie’s book that I read. I just checked in Wikipedia – it is ‘Desert Flower’. The Wikipedia page says that she is a model, actress and human rights activist now. It was nice to know that.

        • Yes, she is a model as weel, she is very beautiful. I thnk she wrote at least one sequel but I haven’t read that, I only read Desert Flower which is a harrowing account.

  3. What an intriguing review. Your review makes me want to see it.

    I heard that some female babies in Indonesia were also being circumcized. I dont know is it true or not. One thing for sure, all muslim men have to do it.

    I feel sorry for women who were trapped in tradition they cant get away from.

    • Yes, I felt very sorry for them. It’s horrible. The circumcision of men and women is not exactly the same. In the movie the men say that it is in the Koran and I was glad that was a topic because it was then shown, that this wasn’t true. They just knew the women couldn’t read the Koran so wouldn’t find out for themselves. they also forbid radios and TVs to keep the ignorant. It’s was very shocking but at the same time ended on a joyful note. I hope you can find it. It’s thought-provoking.

  4. I could try finding it in torrentz…but non hollywood movies are difficult to find.

    Ow how I hate when people/country/government misused Qur’an (Koran). Did u know that Taliban prohibit women to study because Qur’an said so?? The truth is, the first word from God is READ! because God wants us to be smart by reading. And the prophet first wife was a succesful bussiness woman. There is not a single phrase saying women arent allowed to study.

    • That’s why i was so excited about this movie. it doesn’t only criticize but it shows what is behind the prejudice and the tradition and what are the possibilities to overcome them. Although it is a movie about female circumcision, it can be applied to a lot more.

  5. This sounds very good–and tricky with such a topic that sounds horribly disturbing. I’ve read very little African Literature and need to expand my reading horizons more. Your world cinema series project is really cool!

    • Thanks, Danielle. I think you might like this despite the topic, it’s so well done. Funny and thought-provoking. I am thinking about joining Kinna’s African Reading Challenge and might post on it in a week or two. I wasn’t sure at first as you have to commit to five books but there are such a lot of interesting books around.

  6. Pingback: World Cinema Series – Wrap up and Winner Announcement « Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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