Tilai is the story of Saga, who returns home from the city to the country after two years absence to find out that his fiance, Nogma, has become his father’s second wife. Nogma is now Saga’s stepmother and any attempt on his part to deny this reality would amount to breaking the rules of kinship. Still in love, Saga and Nogma meet again secretly and make love. Incest is a capital offence, and when the village finds out about Saga, his blood brother, Kougri, is elected to carry out the tilai (the word means the law). But Kougri is unable to execute the sentence and allows his brother to flee on condition that he doesn’t return to the village.
Tilai is a powerful, compelling film, and director Idrissa Ouedraogo has shown his ability to tell a story and continue an African oral tradition that has existed for generations. The director’s films are renowned for their simple style and their concern with universal issues, particularly family relationships and moral dilemmas. Ouedraogo was the first in a new wave of African filmmakers who sought to leave behind many of the political concerns of their predecessors. This focus on personal issues at the expense of political and historical concerns has been controversial. Certain critics have disparagingly referred to Ouedraogo’s work as return to the source movies that present idyllic images of African society as harmonious and based around traditional village life. Ouedraogo has defended his films against such charges, claiming that he wants to appeal to a wide audience, and certainly Tila proved very popular in Africa as well as Europe.
Burkina Faso/France/Switzerland, 1990.