Friday, October 7, 2011

Just RE-watched...

..."Yeelen", a 1987 film from Mali.

I first saw this film when it was released in 1987 and it has stayed with me all these years. It is a strange, magical tale written, directed, and produced by Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé based on an ancient tale told by the Bambara people of west Africa (who live primarily in Mali, but also in Guinea, Burkina Faso and Senegal). We are not exactly sure in what time period the film takes place, but we know it was long before the appearance of any Europeans, but after the development of metal working in Africa, which places the story anywhere from 300 BCE to the 13th century.

Part mythology, part folk tale, we journey with a young man named Niankoro who is running from his father. Magical powers apparently run in this family, as both father and son can make things burst into flames. There is also a magic scepter and a log that works as a divining rod.

According to father, son has stolen some very important spiritual objects that are of value to the tribe. If father finds said son, he intends to kill him.

Son, on the run from murderous father, travels through foreign territory in an effort to escape the relentless hunt. Along the way, he accidentally picks up a wife, and comes into his own as a man.

In the final confrontation between father and son, magical powers fly, and in the resulting yeelen (which means “brightness” in the Bambara tongue), the landscape is changed both figuratively and literally.

Recommend? Yes. It is a special, enchanting film that is worth seeing as a glimpse into cultures and beliefs other than our own.

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