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KRAKOW 2019

Review: In Search…

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- In a subtle yet powerful way, Kenyan director Beryl Magoko explores her own painful past while questioning why society still allows female circumcision

Review: In Search…
Beryl Magoko in In Search…

In Search… [+see also:
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 was produced in Germany, where Beryl Magoko, the director and protagonist of the Krakow-screened film, lives today. She moved there from Kenya, a country that, from a European perspective, is full of the beauties of nature, wild animals and the sort of exotic imagery that evokes only positive feelings. However, in this part of Africa, and for people from many generations, women were forced to undergo FGM (female genital mutilation), a horrible tradition that cuts girls’ and women’s bodies, and breaks their spirit.

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Magoko was herself mutilated when she was a little girl, and now, as a grown woman, she is considering reconstructive surgery. While physically she has a chance to at least partially regain what was taken from her, the main question in this moving documentary is: can Beryl Magoko heal her emotional wounds?

She travels back to her village, and meets her family and her mother, who allowed Beryl’s circumcision. They never talked about it, even though the Kenyan government banned the ritual in 2011 and the conversation could now easily be had. Why didn’t mothers and grandmothers, who suffered through the ghastly procedure themselves, try to protect their daughters? Why were some five-year-old girls convinced that it was the most important day of their lives, and that if they so much as shed a tear during the “operation”, it would be considered a failure? 

The savagery of this ritual is unimaginable, but director Magoko tries to hold her feelings back, and instead be curious and calm while telling her story. She talks to other victims of FGM, to the doctors who carry out reconstructive surgery, and to a therapist who explains the psychological mechanisms of the trauma caused by cutting. Magoko presents all of the facts and doesn’t take centre stage by parading her own pain. She also shows other women’s helplessness and how they submit to cultural traditions – it becomes clear that any type of rebellion or resistance would have been impossible because it would have resulted in them being excluded from the community. The social and cultural background is sketched out very clearly by the director.

At the same time, Magoko gives the audience a lot of space so that they can empathise with her and the other FGM victims in a subtle, deeply human way. In that emotional silence, occasionally interrupted by a palpable sense of loss and hurt, the tragedy of mutilated women is louder than bombs. It’s not only the personal bravery of Magoko that is impressive here: the fact that she has made such a personal documentary with so much elegance, precision and class also deserves high praise.

In Search… was produced by Beryl Magoko and Jule Katinka CramerRushlake Media GmbH handles the film’s world sales.

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