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Film / Yeelen

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"Niankoro! Your life will be good, your destination happy. Your future is grand, your life, radiant, your death, luminous."

Yeelen (Bambara for "Brightness") is Souleymane Cissé's 1987 classic of Malian cinema. And by "classic," we mean pretty much the only Malian film you're likely to run across in the West. Filmed in the Bambara and Fula languages, it's stunning in terms of visuals, and more than a bit nebulous when it comes to divulging details of setting and plot. While Niankoro, is still in the womb, his father Soma Diarra has a vision that his unborn son will one day kill him. The boy's mother manages to spirit him away and hide him until adulthood, at which point she arms Niankoro with a magic talisman and sends him off to find his uncle, who can hopefully help in the fight against Soma Diarra. Along the way, Niankoro will cast spells, stop battles before they begin, and be betrayed by a part of his own anatomy. The film is based on a Bambara legend, and heavily features depictions of magic.


Tropes found in this film:

  • Determinator: Soma Diarra, to an almost comical level.
  • Functional Magic: A main focus of the film, and a joy to watch
  • Oedipus Complex: The entire catalyst for the plot.
  • The Quest: Niankoro was sent out by the spirits to hunt and take back what his father took.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • According to Malian culture, the Hyena is considered as lower stature than the Lion as shown by Niankoro starting his quest from the Hyena spirit before ending with his transformation into a lion at the climax.
    • Likewise, various crafting scenes and enchantments in the movies were based on mystical nature of artisans in Malian mythology.
    • The entire movie can be seen as symbolism to Mali identity, which is shown by the son of Bambara (the hero, Niankoro) and Fulani (the mother, Attou) raised in the land of Dogon.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Soma Diarra. He has a magic post.
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  • Scenery Porn
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Attou gave birth to Niankoro's son after his father was killed and reincarnated into an egg spirit.