Thursday, April 10, 2014

Travelers and Magicians

Yeelen (1987) - Cissé
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Talking about an epic of Biblical proportions, Soulemane Cissé tells a Bambara myth steeped in animism and sorcery I couldn't help but compare Yeelen to Scorsese's Last Temptation while watching it. Like many other folk tales from different cultures, Yeelen concerns a great journey, good vs evil and father-son rivalry. Young sorcerer Nianankoro is on the run with his mother from his all-powerful, vengeful father, Soma. Niananko apparently possesses an amulet (a big gemstone) that belongs to Komo. Niananko needs to go to his uncle/Soma's twin Djigui. During the long journey, he gets friendly with a tribal king and helps him to ward off his enemies with his magic powers. The king requests another favor. His youngest wife is barren and he wants Niananko to fix her infertility. After taking some hallucinogenic roots together, then overcome by desire, Niananko and the young wife of the king does a dirty deedly. Seeing how remorseful the young man is, the chief awards him the girl, who is now pregnant and carrying Niananko's child. In the mean time, Soma is trailing along, with his magic post, carried by two servants, on his way to destroy Niananko.

Yeelen features some beautiful imagery of Mali. Even though the acting is heavily theatrical, all the principals involved have genuine presence and are great at conveying their feelings. Cissé uses simple effects to show sorcerers powers: burning bushes, sound effects, playing the action backward, star-filter effects, etc. The film has a very different sense of lyricism and visual poetry I'm not really familiar with, and it's very refreshing. I dig it.

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