Souleymane Cisse'

7.3 Yeelen (1987)

Souleymane Cisse' (Mali, 1940) filmed Den Muso/ The Girl (1975) in the languages of Mali, followed by Finye/ The Wind (1982).

Yeelen/ Light (1987) is a respectful and nostalgic tribute to the magical beliefs of primitive tribes in Africa. The plot is littered with allegorical rites but it is fundamentally a reverse Oedipal tragedy (in which it's the father who wants to kill the son). The allegories mostly point at the cycle of life and death, which these characters accept as part of a multi-generational odyssey towards redemption and prosperity. The magical wooden pylon is a humanized counterpart to the monolith of Kubrick's 2001. The landscape is co-protagonist of the story.

Set in an undefined ancient, pre-colonial past of Mali, the film opens with a naked child who ties a goat to a shaman-like sculpture. A magician named Soma is sacrificing a chicken to a god named Mari, asking for help to track down his son Nianankoro. A young man stares in a bowl of water and sees the face of his father. He tells his aging mother that his father is two villages away and that he will find them. His mother warns him that his father has magical powers that will destroy him and wants him to go away, wearing a special fetish, and bring another fetish to his paternal uncle Djigui. Meanwhile she plans to travel to see the magician Kuyate. When his delirious father arrives, with two young slaves carrying a magic post, mother and son are already gone. At a village Soma explains that his son Nianankoro has stole some magic fetishes and has to be killed. Then Soma resumes his search, followed by the two slaves carrying the post that indicates the direction to follow. Nianankoro is walking through an arid region. He has the vision of a hyena-like holy man sitting on a tree, who tells him that he will have a good life. Instead, the next thing that happens to him is that he is captured as a thief by a group of shephards. They drag him to the village and the their king orders to behead him, but Nianankoro uses his magic to paralyze the men who are supposed to kill him. Then we see two tribes face each other and one man from each tribe fight a strange duel in front of a knife: the loser kills himself with the knife. A man comes to ask the king for help against warriors who raided his village and killed every man except him. The king asks Nianankoro to help with his magic powers. Nianankoro evokes a swarm of wasps that attack the warriors of the rival tribe. The king offers to treat him like a son if he remains, but Nianankoro replies that first he has to complete his mission. The king then asks Nianankoro one more favor: to cure his wife Attu who cannot have children. Meanwhile, his father and his two slaves are still chasing him. His father sacrifices an albino man and a dog to the magic post. At the village, Nianankoro can't resist and has sex with the king's wife Attu while trying to cure her. They both confess to the king and Nianankoro is ready to be killed, but the king is lenient: he forgives them but kicks them out of the village. Attu leaves in tears. She is now Nianankoro's wife. Nianankoro's father and his slaves reach the village after they already left. The king refuses to tell him where Nianankoro went. Nianankoro's father insults the king. The king tries to strike him but is paralyzed. Nianankoro's father doesn't need his help anyway because the magic post of the god Mari, carried by the two slaves, is like a compass pointing at Nianankoro's position. Nianankoro and Attu travel on foot to the rocky mountain where uncle Djigui lives. There people live in caves. Their water comes from a spring whose water seem to come from nowhere because there is no river. Nianankoro and Attu are asked to bathe in it. Then they are taken to Djigui. Djigui is blind but can see the future. He tells them that Attu is pregnant and the baby will be a boy. Djigui is blind but can see that he is dying and is worried about a curse on their family. Djigui foresees that Nianankoro's descendants will be slaves but eventually prosper. Djigui tells Nianankoro how he got blind and got separated from his twin brother, Nianankoro's father: when they were young, he asked for a magic piece of wood called "Kore's wing" and was suddenly blind. Djigui gives Nianankoro the magic piece of wood and instructs him to face his father, whereas Attu is instructed to stay with uncle Djigui. Nianankoro, carrying Kore's wing, finally meets his father and the two slaves carrying the magic post of Mari. Nianankoro plants Kore's wing on the ground and the magic post flies out of the hands of the slaves into the air and then falls into the ground. Nianankoro demands to know why his father Soma wants to kill him, but Soma refuses to answer. It is now the turn of the magic post to speak. The magic post condemns Soma and his ancestors, who have used their magic powers for evil. We see again the first scene, in which a naked child ties a goat to the shaman-like sculpture and we now recognize that the sculpture is holding Kore's wing. Mari's post and Kore's wing, facing each other, generate a tempest of light that kills them both. Attu climbs a hill and finds Kore's wing planted there. Then we see a child dig up a big white orb/egg in the desert. He carries it over the dunes to his mother, Attu, and Attu carries it to the top of a dune where Kore's wing is now planted. She leaves the egg there and takes Kore's wing. She returns to her son and her son walks away carrying Kore's wing.

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