2004, Movie, NR, 124 mins


Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene's follow-up to his wonderful FAAT-KINE (2000), the first in this octogenarian master's projected trilogy of films about the heroism of everyday life, is a marvelously entertaining, deeply moving treatment of a highly controversial practice: female genital mutilation. The setting is an idyllic village in rural Africa where the ritual of "purifying" prepubescent women by either partially or entirely excising their clitorides has been performed for generations. Despite the Imam's declarations to the contrary, supporters of the custom, particularly the red-robed women of salindana who perform the operation and the town's conservative menfolk, claim that female circumcision is demanded by Islam. Not everyone in the village, however, believes this is the case, particularly not Colle Ardo Galo Sy (Fatoumata Coulibaly), whose first two babies died during childbirth on account of her mutilated vagina. When Colle finally did give birth to a daughter, Amasatou (Salimata Traore), through a caesarian section, Colle vowed that her own child would never undergo such an ordeal, even if it means the bilakoro ("impure") Amasatou may never find a husband. Colle's flouting of a barbaric tradition, however, is tolerated by the villagers until the day she agrees to shelter four of her neighbors' young daughters who have escaped the salindana's knives and beg Colle for protection. Moved by their pleas, Colle exercises her right to invoke the moolaade, a traditional order of sanctuary that means doom to anyone who dares to break it. Fearless in the face of the mounting opposition from the girls' parents, the salindana and the rest of the villagers who resist any break with tradition, Colle is determined to protect these young women from a cruel and potentially fatal ordeal at all costs. Like many of Sembene's previous films, this is a stirring testament to the power of African women who, despite their traditional lifestyle, are anything but backward. Colle, her husband's other wives and their girlfriends all stay connected to the outside world through their beloved radios while the men work the fields; these ladies are smarter, more worldly and, in the end, a lot stronger than their husbands. Female circumcision is by its nature a serious subject, but the film contains a surprising amount of romance and humor, and Sembene clearly delights in displaying the gorgeously colored cloths, mats and rugs that adorn this tiny village. Best of all, he offers up the encouraging possibility that thorny cultural issues often are best solved within the community itself, rather than through the intervention of outside agencies — an empowering notion that extends to all Africans, regardless of sex. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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