Cruel measures 

A quartet of little girls flee the forest on the outskirts of their Burkina Faso village where old women dressed in long red robes are performing an act of "purification."

The children seek shelter in the compound of a flinty, iconoclastic woman famous for saving her own daughter from the purification ritual years ago. Collé (Fatoumata Coulibaly) ties a colored rope outside her home, informing anyone who dares to take the cowering children that she has invoked the protective spell of moolaadé.

Renowned African director Ousmane Sembene's Moolaadé sounds like science fiction along the lines of The Handmaid's Tale. But Sembene's story is based on the real, brutal practice of mutilation still performed in Africa, where young girls usually between the ages of 4 and 8 have all or part of their genitalia removed as a kind of surgical chastity belt to curb promiscuity.

In one horrifying juxtaposition of scenes, a small child is held down, begging not to be cut. Sembene then shifts to an image of Collé having tortuous, painful sex with her husband, her own body mutilated long ago.

Sembene is a master at crafting emotionally devastating stories with the impact of myth or fairy tale in simple, remote African villages so seemingly insignificant, their dramas might be overlooked. Moolaadé is an impassioned treatise, not only against the mutilation of women, but also against the power structures of village life, where men are revered as gods and women are little more than livestock.

When Collé becomes a hero to the village women, the men strike back by removing what they perceive as a cause of their insubordination: their radios. It is exceptional in this age of media intrusion and the dumbing down of its viewers to see a director heralding media as salvation. And yet, that is the reality Sembene emerges from: the reality of isolated villages where women are imprisoned by ancient custom and where any news of the outside can be their liberation.
Opens Fri., Feb. 4, at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

Felicia.feaster@creativeloafing.com

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    • Local band Manchester Orchestra, who provided the soundtrack, probably would have appreciated a shout-out.

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