Moolaadé (2004); Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring (2003)

FILM, Film Society

Recently at the Wellington Film Society: Sembene’s swansong, Kim Ki-duk’s four seasons.

Moolaadé was the last film from Ousmane Sembene, the Senegalese father of African cinema. The rebel with a cause went out in style. Expelled from a conservative school, Sembene forged a saw-toothed, egalitarian consciousness as an immigrant Marseille dockworker. He damn near perfected art as politics with Moolaadé, a rousing film that recommends itself also on purely aesthetic grounds.

Four little girls ask Colle (Fatoumata Coulibaly) for moolaade (protection) from “purification” (genital mutilation), which she grants them. The village’s chiefs are seriously grumpy, but feisty Colle won’t relent.

It’s facile to make a depressing film that just allows privileged audiences to confirm their predetermined moral superiority and capacity to pity. Unlike the plodding, turgid Vera Drake, Sembene’s aim is more ambitious and nuanced: a provocative, unpredictable feel-good movie. Moolaadé is full of life, vibrancy, girl-power and optimism. It’s even, occasionally, genuinely funny, recalling Xala, his scornful satire of Africa’s black elite.

Like Abouna, 2003’s Chadian masterpiece, it looks beautiful, gently complemented by African music. In probably his best film over a five decade career, Sembene’s belief in ordinary people’s daily heroism is palpable; Colle’s courage is quite inspiring. Sembene affectingly proves one can at once be a patriarch and a feminist. He’s scathingly critical of African sexism; he also nimbly pays tribute to the colourful, traditional charms of an African village.

The remarkable mosque, which is anciently old but kinda looks avante-garde, features in Moolaadé’s hopeful final image.

*  *  *

Simple in its means yet cosmic in its scope, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring is transcendent. The lovely film, seasonally structured, meditates on a cute child’s way to nirvana, instructed by a wise old Buddhist monk. They live on a floating temple in the middle of an isolated, bucolic lake. As with his wrenching The Isle, Kim Ki-duk’s visual rhythms are innovative and beautifully hypnotic.

The indelible images include the child attaching stones to frogs and snakes with puckish glee, the adolescent sneaking under the covers with his girlfriend and the old man’s last scene. As well as understanding aggression and redemption, Spring has a sprightly sense of humour and a beguiling, low key eroticism. As in the similarly enticing Last Life in the Universe, violence lurks beneath the serene surface.

Excitingly, New Zealand and Korea signed a 2008 film co-production agreement (Korea’s only other co-production is with France). Korean films shot (partly/completely) here include: Bungee Jumping of Their Own, Antarctic Journal, Silmido, Laundry Warrior and, most notably, Old Boy’s epilogue. (Black Sheep was part-financed by Park Chan-wook’s Daesung Group, as part of a business alliance with Park Road Post.) I’d like Kim Ki-Duk to direct Rain Redux!

Film Societies in twelve centres run an annual programme of weekly/bi-monthly film screenings. Membership entitles the holder free admission to screenings for a 12-month period. Further details are available online at filmsociety.wellington.net.nz. For information about a film society closest to you, visit the New Zealand Federation of Film Societies.
Filed under: FILM, Film Society

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Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.