• YEELEN (1987) - Souleymane Cissé


    … In YEELEN, a writer and director from Mali, Souleymane Cissé, re-creates the pre-modern world of the Bambara culture … a father tracks his son across the landscape of yellow dust and parched ground; the young man journeys to his wise old uncle, bringing a magic fetish, a brilliant stone that will unlock the spiritual secrets his father hoards. ”Yeelen” means ”brightness,” and the symbolic stone’s bright light suggests knowledge and power … At the very end, Mr. Cissé’s images are stunning. The son and father confront each other, each with a magic stone, and the fetishes pour out rays of light that meet and slowly turn the screen white. Jumping ahead in time, the son’s own small son discovers two pure white orbs buried in the sand, as if his father and grandfather have been crystallized into the knowledge the child holds in his hands. (Caryn James, The New York Times, 1987)

    … With YEELEN – LIGHT, Cissé, who studied Philosophy and Film in Moscow, probably created the first great African film. He belongs to those directors who have significantly influenced African film aesthetics and achieved international recognition for African film in the eighties … The film shows the initiation drama of the Peulh, a mythical father-son conflict … YEELEN is partly made in reaction against the ethnographic films from Europe, as Cissé comments. “I wanted to react to an outside perspective, the perspective of white scholars and technicians, a foreign perspective which sometimes tends to make the Africans objects, animals to be shown with their exotic rites.” (Ulrich Joßner, Culturebase.net)

    … This is a distinctly African film, but because the spiritual struggles depicted here are so familiar and often central to countless religions, its scope and appeal is a universal. Just as there’s no mistaking the story’s Oedipal overtones, there’s an Eden-like vibe to many of the film’s more elemental sequences. Cissé can evoke the wondrous magical powers of the film’s Bambara people with as a little as a dog and an Albino native walking backward in time. You won’t find an image this powerful and as deceptively simple in your average Hollywood blockbuster that never brings us as close to the souls of its characters as Yeelen does. (Ed Gonzalez, Slant, 2003)

    … Far from being universal, the film can be quite oblique in its cultural specificity, and this fact has caused some confusion among Western critics. Since its appearance at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival (where it won the Jury Prize), many critics have praised YEELEN for its lush imagery, expert cinematography, and its vivid portrait of Bambara culture, but question the strength of the film’s narrative structure … Like the folklore of nearly any culture (even one less remote than that of Mali), the story of Yeelen draws from a complex tradition, which, though full of resonances and implications of meaning, is not wholly reducible or assimilable into Western interpretive language. That the film is nonetheless accessible, even engaging, is an indication of the filmmakers’ ability to realize their culture and its stories on film. (Leo Goldsmith, Notcoming.com, 2004)

    … There isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster that comes close to this sparse dialogue and lyrical visionary work as far as creating such a powerfully felt sense of being and universe, and it’s amazingly accomplished with a nonprofessional acting cast. It’s simply uncompromising cinema, featuring fantastic landscapes and gripping magical images of light and fire and a story that bristles with life and passion and depth and purity. (Dennis Schwartz, Ozus’ World Movie Reviews, 2003)

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