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Moolaade: Strong Oscar contender

Arthur J Pais in Toronto | September 22, 2004 17:25 IST

A still from MoolaadeFour girls -- refusing to have their bodies 'cut' -- flee to a strong willed woman who had protected her daughter from circumcision.

As the other villagers -- including relatives -- try to force the rebel to part with the girls, she invokes the time-honoured custom of 'moolade' that offers inviolable sanctuary. Even as her daughter's marriage is imperiled by her bold stance, the mother stands her ground.

In the buoyant, witty and colourful film Moolaade, which does not obscure the terror the young girls face, a strong Oscar contender for foreign films has emerged.

It was a big favourite at the Toronto International Film Festival. Critic Roger Ebert, who loved the film, is already predicting an Oscar for it.

rediff.com's Arthur J Pais was at Toronto. Don't miss his dispatches!


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One can't expect anything short of a miracle whenever director Ousmane Sembene makes film in his native Africa, especially in his home country of Senegal. But in his newest film Moolaade, the 81-year-old director has crafted a rare gem.

The film, winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes earlier this year, was one of the best reviewed movies at Toronto.

'Moolaade feels at once like a documentary, a fable, a kind of ritual performance and rousing rallying cry for gender empowerment,' wrote Toronto Star. 'Beguiling but deceptive in its cinematic simplicity, it also has a raw emotional power that brings all of its abstractions universally home.'

About 11 years ago, London-based Pratibha Parmer and novelist Alice Walker made a searing documentary Warrior Marks about female genital mutilation. They had argued that it was futile to justify the mutilation in the name of Islam because the tribal custom had flourished for centuries before the advance of Islam.

Sembene holds similar views. He is convinced that the practice was invented to keep women subjugated.

Warrior Marks travelled to many film festivals and had a brief theatrical run.

The chances of Moolaade becoming an arthouse hit are bright because Sembene imbues his film with cold terror as well as wit, charm, humour, music and lots of colour.

The film has created quite a stir that it has been sold to countries such as Japan that seldom buy films from Africa.

It also embodies 'heroism in daily life,' Sembene has said in an interview. It is the second in a trilogy, which started with Faat-Kine, released four years ago, the director said.

"These are the heroes to whom no country, no nation gives any medals," said Sembene who turned to Marxism over six decades ago when he was a dock worker in Marseilles, France, earning money from hard labour to finance his pursuit of the fine arts and cinema.

The ordinary people who fight for their dignity "never get a statue built," he continued. "That for me is the symbolism of this trilogy."

Sembene also said his trilogy will conclude with The Brotherhood Of The Rats, a city-based film about corruption.

Moolaade was the only African film in the official selection at Cannes this year. Sembene, the oldest in the competition, was accompanied by the wife of the Senegalese president, Viviane Wade, who came to 'support African cinema and Senegalese culture.'

Sembene dedicated his eighth film to "mothers, women who fight for the abolition of this leftover of a time past."


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