Name of Film: Yeelen
Director: Souleymane Cissé
Origin and Release Year: Burkina Faso (1987)
Starring or score: 7/10
Yeleen is a film that mixes Africanism with magic. A look inside a Malian village, directed by Souleymane Cissé and released in 1987, that awakens and connects the heritage of the modern African viewer.
It is the story of a young Bambara man searching for spiritual insight. Brightness being the meaning of ‘yeleen’ becomes a metaphor for this revelation. Cissé does not shy away from using purely African elements and maintains tradition and realism to portray a subject matter, that might be otherwise seen as unrealistic. It makes one wonder if maintaining reality can still portray magic?
The film follows a native name Niankoro, played by Issiaka Kane, who leaves on a quest for knowledge. He learns lessons about himself and his magical powers. He encounters his long-lost father, also a sorcerer, whom he battles with. Along his journey, he also runs into trouble with a king who asks him for a favor. The favor is to help his ‘barren’ wife get pregnant. Niankoro then tells the king that his penis betrayed him, after sleeping with his wife. The king then gives his wife to Niankoro, she realizes she is pregnant and they continue the journey together.
The film focuses on a balance between religion, tradition, and magic. Although black magic is established in this African community’s culture, it is emphasized with a Western feel through stylistic choices. Inherently African themes dominate scenes such as maternal power, patriarchy, and religious beliefs. These themes met with realist stylistic choices, create a sense of nostalgia for the modern African child. Even if one has never experienced that depth of culture personally.
The film uses plays with light and reflection to portray the simplicities of magic. As well as, conventions such as reverse speed and quick cutting to duplicate transformation. It takes simplicity and adds slightly out-of-place elements to make one feel that something is off but right.
I’d recommend the modern African child to watch this film, purely for its subtle linking of Africanism to the modern concept of magic. It is also a shining example of realism in film, as opposed to all the explosive CGI we encounter in cinemas these days. Yeelen truly makes simplicity magical.
What did you think of Yeelen?