ALEXANDER BISLEY reports from the Wellington Film Society. Coming up: Sembene’s swansong.

Moolaade 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 Moolaade, 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. Moolaade 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 Moolaade’s hopeful final image.