An early establishing sequence in Moolaadé captures the intrinsic character of the unnamed rural village through its peculiar, indigenous architecture, as the camera lingers on the voluptuous image of the local mosque that has been fashioned in the tactile and simple organic forms of a traditional African mudhut and curiously topped with an ostrich egg. The eccentric, deeply entrenched (and seemingly inextricable) fusion of religion and primitive tribal custom provides an incisive introduction to the film’s examination of cultural isolation, obsolete (and often inhuman) customs, fostered ignorance, and repressive social conformity as four frightened young girls appointed for the traditional ceremony of “cutting” (female circumcision) seek refuge in the home of Collé (Fatoumata Coulibaly), the second (and favorite) wife of a tribal council elder (Rasmane Ouedraogo). Years earlier, Collé had defied tribal custom by refusing to have her only surviving child (her other children having died during complicated births undoubtedly related to irreparable physical injuries sustained during her own “cutting”) undergo the ceremonial procedure and remain a bilakoro. Attempting to induce Collé to truncate her imposed moolaadé (harbored protection) in time for the girls to still be included in the ceremony, the council reinforces its solidarity on the stigma of defying the procedure by decreeing that village men not be allowed to marry a bilakoro, compelling Collé’s husband to demand their own daughter’s excision before her proposed upcoming marriage to a recently returned French immigrant. Novelist and filmmaker Sembene forgoes the heavy-handed metaphors and absurd surreality of his earlier to films to create a distilled and understated, yet equally complex, trenchant, keenly observed, deeply humanist, and profoundly relevant portrait of rural Africa at the crossroads of globalism and modernization.
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