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Yeelen

The Light

The first African film to win a prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and also a popular success in Europe(an extremely rare feat for an African film), Souleymane Cisse’s Yeelen is a mythical tale of power, knowledge and conflict, set amongst the Bambara people of Mali. The action is set at an unspecified moment in the pre-colonial era. Nianankoro is the son of one of the elders of the Komo, a secret society whose members possess great knowledge and supernatural powers. Nianankoro is impatient at having to wait to learn the secrets of the Komo, so he steals one of the sacred fetishes and flees his homeland. He is pursued by his father, who is intent on exacting vengeance on his son.

Yeelen marked a major departure from Cisse’s earlier realist works as he attempted to develop a new, distinctive style. This move caused the film to be the subject of intense debate: some critics saw it as the first genuine example of a truly African film, both in terms of its style and content, while others denounced it for pandering to Western stereotypes of an exotic Africa. However, critics have been able to agree that the film is beautifully shot and has many strikingly powerful images. Above all, its central tale of a father-son conflict allows the film to be understood and enjoyed on different levels – political, psychological and mythological.

Mali, 1987.
English subtitles.
Colour.
104 min.

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