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Teitelbaum, S. (2007). Moolaade. Psychoanal. Rev., 94(6):967-974.

(2007). Psychoanalytic Review, 94(6):967-974


Stefanie Teitelbaum, LCSW, NCPsyA

“The moolaade,” protection and sanctuary, is a ritual symbolized by a multicolored piece of rope. It is imbued with the power of a nameless ancient religion practiced prior to the adoption of Islam in the Senegalese village that is the setting of Ousmane Sembene's 2004 film Moolaade, which he wrote and directed. A woman invokes the power of the moolaade against female circumcision, descriptively and euphemistically signified as “excision” or “purification” by the characters. None of these terms comes close to expressing the pain, shame, rage, terror, danger, and despair of the ritual. In the case of the film's protagonist, her inability to give birth vaginally and her excruciating pain during sexual intercourse suggest that she has been subjected to more than a simple cliteroidectomy. Perhaps her labia minora were also excised and her labia majora stitched closed, as seen in the most extreme cases. Genital mutilation is the more affectively accurate phrase, although it is not used in this disturbing, exhilarating film. An artistic symbol evokes a truth feeling (Milner, 1957) and within Sembene's art, all these termss — sanitized, euphemized, or proselytized — evoke a flood of feelings sweeping us away throughout. The spaces in Sembene's script, alternating heavy-handed propaganda, obvious symbols, barely underscored powerful relationships, and a very light touch in directing understated performances leave plenty of room for an unrelentingly powerful, subjective experience. Fortunately, any technical critique of the script or direction pales next to the film's emotional impact, which is heartbreaking and infuriating while also hopeful and flavored with dashes of humor.

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