The Unforgettable: YEELEN (1987)
Yeelen (Bambara for “brightness”/”light”) is a 1987 Malian film directed by Souleymane Cissé. It is filmed in the Bambara and Fula languages, and is based on a legend told by the Bambara people. Though the era is undefined—presumably set in the 13th century in the Mali Empire, and is a heroic quest narrative featuring magic and precognition.
Cissé has stated in an interview for Cahiers du Cinéma that it was “in part made in opposition to European ethnographic films” and that he “wanted to respond to an external perception, a perception by white technicians and academics, an alien perception.”
It stars Issiaka Kane as Nianankoro, a young African man who possesses magical powers. Niamanto Sanogo plays Niankoro’s father, who is tracking his son through the Bambara, Fulani and Dogon lands of West Africa using a magical wooden post to guide him.
In the 13th century, Niankoro (Issiaka Kane) is born to the shaman Soma (Niamanto Sanogo), who fears his offspring’s magical powers. Niankoro flees with his mother (Soumba Traore) and masters his skills while staying ahead of his father’s attempts to track him down. Setting off on a journey to ask his uncle, Djigui Diarra (Ismaila Sarr), for advice, Niankoro uses his abilities to help tribal king Rouma Boll (Balla Moussa Keita) defeat a neighbouring tribe, thereby earning the king’s friendship.
|Directed by||Souleymane Cissé|
|Written by||Souleymane Cissé|
|Produced by||Souleymane Cissé|
|Starring||Issiaka KaneAoua SangareNiamanto Sanogo|
|Cinematography||Jean-Noël FerragutJean-Michel Humeau|
|Music by||Salif KeitaMichel Portal|
|Release dates||May 1987 (premiere at Cannes)14 April 1989 (US, limited)|
|Running time||105 min.|
|Country||Mali / Burkina Faso / France / West Germany|