BURKINA FASO: Two From Sembene: Moolaade and Xala
Reviewer: Dylan de Thomas
Rating (out of 5): *****
Rating (out of 5): ***½
I'll admit it: I felt a little dread at the prospects of watching Moolaade – the last film by the "Father of African cinema," Ousmane Sembene. It sat on top of my DVD player, looking every bit like the "vitamin movie" that litters many a GreenCine queue – movies that you know are good for you, but which you also feel disinclined to watch. There are even studies (beware: PDF) on the avoidance of watching movies that you should watch.
But Moolade is a startlingly humanistic film about female genital mutilation set in a small village in Burkina Faso, a land-locked nation in Western Africa. As grim as that may sound, the film itself is an absolute wonder to behold. From literally the first frame, the movie is engaging and involving; Sembene created a colorful, fascinating world in which the drama in the film unfolds in a deliberate, tantalizing way.
The movie opens with four young girls who wish to escape their "cutting" and ask for magical protection – the titular "moolaade" – from Colle, the second wife of a village elder. She gives it, at great personal risk to herself. Sembene explains very little to the viewer, instead letting you immerse yourself in the lives in the story.
It's difficult to overstate the level of humanity that is evinced by Sembene here, and how eminently watchable it is. If you don't believe me, Roger Ebert wrote a wonderful essay on the film, adding it to his Great Films list. And great it indeed is. I could not more highly recommend Moolade.
From Sembene's last film to the one that made his name on the international stage: Xala is a comedy about El Hadji, a rich businessman with, ahem, questionable ethics, who believes he has been visited by a curse of impotence – a xala – on the day of his wedding to his third wife.
An adaptation of his own novel, Sembene's Xala is a farce about the collision of those first post-colonial African nations, where many leaders were torn between their national roots and the promise of Western finery – bottled water, imported cars, tailored suits and so on.
The movie, while somewhat raw, is often laugh-out-loud funny and easily worth the two hour running time.
AUTHOR: Dylan de Thomas
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