Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaade was officially released on February 19. I didn’t receive a copy until just last week and have only just gotten a chance to explore the disc, but it us surely one of the most important releases of the year.
Ousmane Sembene, the great Senegalese filmmaker and novelist and the godfather of Black African cinema, died in 2007 at the age of 84. Moolaade, his final film, tackles the issue of female circumcision (also known as female genital mutilation) in Islamic Africa in what can best be described as a rousing celebration of women’s rights and solidarity. Four adolescent girls flee the “purification” ceremony and request sanctuary from the modern-thinking Colle (Fatoumata Coulibaly), a wife and mother who invokes a tribal power of protection more ancient than the village’s Islamic practices. Her defiance challenges the authority of the elder women who perform the cutting ceremony (they vow to “destroy her power”) and the men who rule the village (they confiscate the radios to stop the spread of modern ideas). Semebene’s style draws from folk storytelling traditions. His dialogue, with its ritualistic call-and-response quality, has a lovely sing-song beauty, and in the climax the women celebrate their defiance in a dance number that merges ceremonial ritual with emotional expression. Beneath the surface simplicity lays a richly drawn community, a serious dialogue about the blind obedience to tradition and authority, and a message of equality, education, and respect.
New Yorker released the film on a deluxe two-disc edition, with numerous featurettes and a video interview with Sembene conducted as Moolaade was being released.
I wrote about Sembene a few years ago for a retrospective in Seattle organized by the Northwest Film Forum. The essay is reprinted here.
My other pick of the week is Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. I’ve written about it on the blog and in various publications numerous times. Simply put, it was my favorite film of 2007.
Sean Penn’s adaptation of Jon Krakauer’s non-fiction book is a bracing cinematic plunge into the odyssey of Christopher McCandless. The real-life young man fled a middle-class life of what he perceived to be the compromises and corruptions of the material world to embark on an “Alaskan Adventure,” a quest of self-reliance in the natural world guided by Thoreau and Jack London. Along the way, Christopher (beautifully played by Emile Hirsch) re-christens himself Alexander Supertramp and gives himself to the road, touching the lives of the people he meets (played by, among others, Catherine Keener, Brian Dierker, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart, and Oscar nominee Hal Holbrook) without being able to commit to any of them. Penn throws you headlong into the romance of the journey and the buzzing thrill of his quest with spectacular imagery and textures that you can almost feel in the space between the screen. And he embraces the rush of Christopher’s idealized, poetic notion of man alone in nature while acknowledging (and even, in a way, appreciating) the self-involved immaturity of the young man who is convinced that he knows it all. At over 2 ½ hours, “Into the Wild” has a ragged glory, as if hewn from a surfeit of raw materials with unbound creative conviction. There may have been more polished films and more finely-honed narratives in 2007, but there were none with as much passion as Penn brings to this labor of love.
Read my MSN review here.
New on TV DVD this week is the made-for-cable mini-series The Kill Point with Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo:
Spike TV entered the special event programming arena with this eight-hour mini-series about a Pittsburg bank robbery turned hostage. John Leguizamo is the leader of the criminal strike team, all military vets and former comrades in arms who came back from Iraq with little future. They are efficient and tight, use code names (Leguizamo is Mr. Wolf) and watch each other’s backs, but when their exit strategy goes south they head back in for what becomes a long occupation. Donnie Wahlberg is hostage negotiator Horst Cali, determined to save the hostages despite the politics and pressures behind the scenes, some of it engineered by a big business father of a socialite hostage. It’s a campaign of dares, feints, bluffs and well-executed tactics, and Mr. Wolf isn’t above playing the “Dog Day Afternoon” card, as much for distraction as for winning public opinion (Leguizamo has his “Att-i-ca!” moment leading a chant: “Died for their war / Tell me what for!”). The snappy twists and frequent influx of new characters (including former soldiers in arms who sign on to help their escape) gives it the feel of “24,” but this series wraps it up much quicker, and with fewer leaps in the abyss in incredulous complications. This contained story promises – and delivers – closure at the end of the drama.
Here’s a digest of the rest of the week’s DVD releases featured on my MSN column.
Movies: Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium with Dustin Hoffman and Natalie Portman, Danish director Susanne Bier’s English language debut Things We Lost in the Fire with Halle Berry and Benicio Del Toro, and Amir Bar-lev’s excellent documentary My Kid Could Paint That.
Amir Bar-lev’s documentary portrait of 4-year-old painting prodigy Marla Olmstead, the pre-school Pollack whose abstracts sold for thousands of dollars until the media branded her a fake, leads him into a dissection of how the media hacks and shapes complex real-life stories into simple narratives. He investigates how boundaries between public and private are blurred by the media’s insatiable need for stories, and as he confronts the motivations and responsibilities of the media, he faces those same questions himself, sometimes right on screen…. Like the best of the new wave of American documentary, it’s about far more than the human interest story at the center, yet Bar-lev never forgets about the people at the center of it all.
Read the full review here.
TV: The Love Boat: Season One Volume One (12 episodes of romantic kitsch on three discs),
the Japanese anime series Blood +: Part One, and the British TV production of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather:
“It was the night before Hogwatch….” This British TV production, the first live-action adaptation of a “Discworld” novel from comic fantasist Terry Pratchett, is an alternate reality Christmas special, complete with the Discworld answer to Santa Claus: the Hogfather, a kind of Father Christmas with tusks and a snout. This holiday season, the gods of this offbeat world have decided that humans are mucking up their well-tempered universe with their imaginations, so they hire an assassin (Marc Warren) to take out the Hogfather. On the side of the humans is Death itself: the skeletal Grim Reaper (voiced by Ian Richardson) dons a red suit and a fake beard and gives his best “ho-ho-ho” to take over the Hogfather’s route while his feisty granddaughter (Michelle Dockery) goes after the assassin. It’s a great-looking film, full of marvelous images and whimsy and spiked with a gallows humor that the cast pulls off with dry wit and classically British comic understatement. The grand old cast includes David Jason, David Warner, Tony Robinson, and Joss Ackland. Features a 20-minute video interview with Terry Pratchett.
Special Releases: The four-film box set Billy Wilder Film Collection, Disney’s original animated 101 Dalmatians: Platinum Edition (back on DVD for the first time since 1999) and the 1957 12 Angry Men: 50th Anniversary Edition:
12 Angry Men began life as a landmark of live television. Reginald Rose’s original teleplay won an Emmy Award in 1955. Henry Fonda brought the story to the big screen and brought Rose along with it to adapt and expand the script. Producer Fonda takes the lead as a hold-out juror who tries to stop a rush to judgment in a murder trial and debate the facts at hand before sentencing a young man to death. Lee J. Cobb leads the “guilty” votes and becomes belligerent as others change their votes during the debate. Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Ed Begley, and Robert Webber co-star as fellow jurors. The film marked the feature debut of Sidney Lumet, himself a veteran of live TV, and he effectively modulates the drama without ever taking the camera out of the jury room until the verdict is in and the jury is out.
Read the complete review here.
The weekly column goes live every Tuesday on MSN Entertainment.
[Note: click on DVD cover to find it on Amazon]