This adaptation of an ancient oral legend from Mali, is one the most acclaimed and widely seen African films ever made. An Oedipal story mixed with magic, Yeelen is as visually stunning as anything from Hollywood.
Set in the powerful Mali Empire of the 13th century, Yeelen follows the journey of Nianankoro, a young warrior who must battle the powerful Komo cult. Nianankoro’s greatest enemy is his own father, a dangerous and corrupt wizard who uses his dark magic to try and destroy his son. Traveling over the arid Bambara, Fulani and Dogan lands of ancient West Africa, Nianankoro eventually comes face to face with his father in a final fatal showdown. Cissé’s extraordinary use of landscapes and light produces a unique and striking cinematic style. —Kino
Raised in a Muslim family, Souleymane Cissé was a passionate cinephile from childhood. He attended secondary school in Dakar, and returned to Mali in 1960 after national independence. His film career began as an assistant projectionist for a documentary on the arrest of Patrice Lumumba. This triggered his desire to create films of his own, and he obtained a scholarship to the Moscow school of Cinema and Television. In 1970 he returned to Mali once more, and joined the Ministry of Information as a cameraman, where he produced documentaries and short films. In 1972, he produced his first medium-length film, Cinq jours d’une vie (Five Days in a Life), which tells the story of a young man who drops out of a Qur’anic school and becomes a petty thief living on the street. Cinq Jours premiered at the Carthage Film Festival. In 1974, he produced his first full-length film in the Bambara language, Den muso (The Girl), the story of a young mute girl who has been raped. The girl becomes pregnant… read more
At first glance, Yeelen might appear to be a simplistic film. Make no mistake though, it's a ravishing experience akin to an old epic that's been passed down orally through generations. Though the style is slow and simple, Cisse's visual quality carries the film. It's painterly with each composition, movement, cut well thought out to maximum effect. I had a hard time entering the film though. It lags in some areas.