Brightness (Yeelen)


Level the skies, so that I may walk on them.

Mali is another country that has but one representative on the list. Fittingly, Souleymane Cisse’s Yeelen has quite a bit in common with Ceddo; the look and the feel are very much the same, even if the plots are startlingly different. For one, Yeelen really can’t be said to take place in reality; there’s too much supernatural in what goes on to take it at face value. And that’s the main selling point; the fact that a little film from Mali can be as well made as this and have a clearly defined sense of the fictional is quite something.

The plot assumed that I understood a good deal more than I did, but here’s what I was able to glean nevertheless. Nianankoro is a young man who possesses some sort of voodoo or sorcery abilities, of which he is well regarded for. In particular, his father knows of his abilities, and accuses Nianankoro of stealing the “fetishes” of his people, a crime to which the father wishes to hunt down Nianankoro and kill him for. Nianankoro’s much more sympathetic mother sends him to receive help from his uncle Djigui, and thus we have our plot, as Nianankoro traverses the lands, helping various people, while his father, with the aid of a “magic post”, attempts to track him down. Cisse has a lovely use of color throughout this film, and it’s not manufactured color; it instead captures the variance of color that we find in real life, in his native Africa. It was especially noticeable whenever there was fire on screen, which, more often than not, was a result of some sort of witchcraft undertaken by one of the characters, so the fire appeared that much more supernatural as a result. The scenery used for the film was very exotic and quite lovely to see, and it aided the film where it otherwise would have been far too simple with what production value it was able to muster. There were a number of instances where the cultural dissonance left me unable to fully appreciate or understand what was going on, but since this was basically a fantasy film (even though it didn’t really feel like it), I was usually accepting of the disconnect. As far as I could tell, the film used non-professional actors (since, after all, one isn’t likely to find too many professional actors in countries such as Mali), and you can unfortunately tell; they pretty much deliver their dialogue, and act rather woodenly, and offer little else. The one other noteworthy aspect of the film was the score. It wasn’t around too much of the time, but when it was, it was quite effective at its job, even with the limited instruments it used.

This was quite well done for what is technically a third-world country. There were numerous dolly shots, where the camera felt as if it were floating around its subjects, that I was rather impressed with, and the storytelling, taken from a Bambara legend, was quite entrancing when it had the mind to be. That being said, there was a lot about the film that I didn’t get; not that I have to understand everything on my first viewing of a film, but when the troubles are in terms of conveying bits of the story to the viewers, I raise my hand in objection. The ending, for instance, is about as vague and imperceptible as any you’ll come across in film, but for some reason, it felt like the right ending. Really, everything the film did felt like it was the right decision; it was just making out the results of those decisions that was the occasional problem. Still, this was pretty enjoyable, so as long as you go into it not expecting a straightforward Hollywood film, you might find some things to like about this one as well.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10


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