The film takes its name from the Wolof word for "protection" but which equates most closely in the film with the Medieval European concept of "sanctuary." Set in a rural Senegalese village, the film begins with six young girls fleeing a "purification" ceremony. Two of the girls fatally throw themselves into a well, but the other four run to Collé (Fatoumata Coulibaly), the second wife of a village elder for help. Collé, who previously saved her own daughter Amasatou (Salimata Traoré) from genital cutting after having two older daughters die of related complications, invokes moolaadé. Once invoked moolaadé offers complete protection within the mud walls of the family compound until the grantor says the word that ends the protection.
Collé's intercession on behalf of the four girls puts her own daughter's safety at risk when the village elders decide that Amasatou must be circumcised as well. Thereafter, the film principally concerns the efforts of the village elders to coerce Collé to end the moolaadé. When attempts to cajole her to do so fail, her husband Ciré (Rasmane Ouedraogo) whips her in the village square to compel her to relent. This scene is especially dramatic with most of the village turned out to either urge Ciré on or to encourage Collé to hold out, and Collé resolutely standing up to a prolonged hail of blows.
Moolaadé is sparingly written and beautifully acted, but is clearly intended to be taken as a fable, not realistic drama. Reactions and consequences are intensified for dramatic effect, but the film works as entertaining and informative political theater.
Moolaadé has been released by New Yorker Video in an attractive 2-disc set.
Optional English subtitles are appropriately sized, paced, and placed.
Disc two includes a 23-minute "Making of" featurette filmed on set; five minutes of footage from the film's African premiere; a 25-minute interview with director Sembène about his views on film aesthetics and views on Africa; interviews with three of the actresses (10 min.); and a 34-minute featurette about female genital mutilation. Finally, there's also a 14-page booklet which includes a brief interview with Sembène, a filmography and bibliography, and a list of additional resources about the filmmaker and against FGM.