Yeelen [Brightness] (1987)

Director: Souleymane Cissé
Writer: Souleymane Cissé
Cast: Issiaka KaneAoua SangareNiamanto SanogoBalla Moussa KeitaSoumba TraoreIsmaila SarrYoussouf Tenin CisséKoke Sangare
Seen on: 10.8.2016

Niankoro (Issiaka Kane) and his mother (Soumba Traore) have fled from his father Soma (Niamanto Sanogo), a powerful sorcerer. When Soma is starting to catch up with them, Niankoro departs on a journey to visit his uncle and get his advice. In his pocket is a magical artefact that could potentially give him the power to beat his father – and is the reason that he is pursued so relentlessly by him.

Yeelen draws on Malian myth(s) to tell a story that is deeply embedded into Malian culture and tradition and to tell it in a way that is decisively not “Western”, not Hollywood. To the European eye, that makes it sometimes a little harder to understand, but also fascinating.


It takes a bit to get used to how the story is told here. The connections between the parts of the story are unusual for us, progression of the story and character decisions all take a bit more thinking to be able to follow, and sometimes even then a few things remain unclear. But it never feels like it’s unclear because “Africa is so mystical, man, and her people are so exotic, you know, you just have to go with the flow”, rather it’s unclear because of a lack of understanding on our side and not because of a lack of expression on the film’s side.

That being said, the story it tells is not entirely unfamiliar. The topics that echo through it – becoming an adult on the kids’ part and letting them go and do their own thing on the parents’ part, among others – are probably as universal as any human topic can get, even if the way we deal with it is not.

yeelen1In any case, Yeleen was quite the experience to watch and not only because it broadened my horizon. The beautiful images captured by cinematographers Jean-Noël Ferragut and Jean-Michel Humeau are astonishing and together with the slow pace of the story, they develop a current that pulls you under and into that historical world.

I would probably need a couple of more viewings and definitely more knowledge about Malian history and myth to really understand all the subtleties of the film, but I very much enjoyed the glimpse it gave me into a very different perspective on the world than what I’m used to.

yeelen2Summarizing: Worth seeing, definitely.


1 thought on “Yeelen [Brightness] (1987)

  1. Pingback: Yeelen (Souleymanne Cissé, Mali/Burkina Faso/France/W.Germany/Japan, 1987) – Vanguard Cinema

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