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Movie Review by Alice Castle

Starring: Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Helene Diarra, Salimata Traore

Director: Ousmane Sembene

A two-hour long film about female genital mutilation might not be everybody’s idea of a good night’s viewing, but Ousmane Sembene’s film is well worth watching if only to find out more about the ancient ritual that’s practiced in 38 of the 54 African Union member states.

Telling the story as a modern day fable, Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene focuses on a small village in Burkino Faso in which stands a remarkable mosque whose design was clearly inspired by the intricate structures made by termite ants. (Tangent: You wonder if the Spanish architect Gaudi also had the same idea in some of his wonderful creations.) As you would expect in rural Burkino Faso society the men of the village pray in the mosque and make all the important decisions, while the women stay at home and care for children waiting for their husbands to return.

Colle Gallo Ardo Sy (Fatoumata Coulibaly), a circumcised woman and spirited second wife of a gentle male villager has decided to break the village tradition, and has prevented her daughter from being circumcised by the sinister female purifiers. The work of circumcising young girls is considered unclean, and a group of old ladies take up the task with unhygienic, unsterilised scythes often leading to deaths through infection. Colle’s daughter, the uncircumcised Amasatou (Salimata Traore), has not been spurned by society and as a local beauty is betrothed to the chief’s son who has been sent away to study in France. Chaos breaks out when some of the little girls run away from their circumcision ceremony and seek refuge and protection (moolaade) with Colle. The wise woman uses village folklore to keep them safe and in the process turns husband and wife, woman and man against each other.

A subject so painful and disgusting as female genital mutilation is brought to the audience with sensitivity and even humour at times. Sembene deserves the title he is sometimes given as the father of African films in dealing with this issue on the big screen.

4 out of 6 stars