My film career has been marked by a number of films, including some African films discovered in particular thanks to my teacher and late friend N. Sail and the African Film Festival of Khouribga (Rencontres du Cinéma Africain up to the fifth edition of the 1992). Among these exceptional films there is one that I have a strong desire to talk about, or rather to talk about again, today to fulfill the duty of memory to which I am indebted for this expressive modality that has fascinated me since my tender adolescence. This is the sublime “Yeelen” of the no less sublime Souleymane Cissé.


At the beginning of his initiatory journey, the young Nianankoro, a Bambara possessor of knowledge and magical gifts, meets a kind of “African oracle” who announces to him with a thunderous laugh:

“You will reach your destination Nianankoro. Your future is bright. Your life will be radiant and your end will be full of light ”.

And indeed, watching the film, we are fascinated by the light!


When I saw “Yeelen” for the first time in 1988 during the African Film Festival in Khouribga, I was stunned, as if mesmerized, unable to express the slightest judgment on this atypical film. Having been dissatisfied, I went to see him a second time in another room. Then, still thirsty, I made arrangements with the projectionist of one of the theaters (I was the general secretary of the festival and in charge of programming) to see him a third time, alone, early in the morning!

There a light came on that illuminated my field of vision and revealed the immensity and depth of this real cinematic moment created by Cissé.

These images shot in magnificent natural settings, framed and illuminated in respect of a clairvoyant and luminous cinematic aesthetic, these actors who seem to compose their roles in a natural and spontaneous way, this dramatic construction deceptively respectful of the principles of classical Greek tragedy, are not as simple and stripped as it looks. This “luminous” aesthetic that dazzles the eye also and above all is the basis of a vision and a profound interpretation of the mentality, thought and socio-political relations dominant in African societies. Myth and witchcraft serve as pillars for the formal construction of the narrative, but the cinematic treatment brings out a very strong modern reading of African culture and society.

The confrontation between the father, holder of the divine knowledge of the Bambara, furious at his son who curses for daring to enter his secret garden, and said son who tries to understand why his father, instead of loving him and passing on his knowledge, tries to killing him symbolizes all the contradictions and conflicts that have plagued the African socio-political fabric and which have ended up giving life to all these deadly, stupid and evil conflicts that undermine today’s African societies.

Is S. Cissé a visionary? The question must be asked.

From knowledge springs light, said the Greek thinkers. In continuity, S. Cissé seems to mean that light is born from the gaze, that the gaze is a confrontation of divergent forces, therefore a source of contradictions and conflicts, which are the main source of knowledge and transformation of the World, therefore of knowledge. So, the cycle is complete!


“The heating ignites. And the two worlds (Heaven and Earth) exist through light ”announce the film’s pre-credits.

But where there is Light, Darkness is not far away. They are lurking everywhere, at the corner of every shot of the film, in the amber of the majestic trees, rocks, caves and pure springs of Africa.

And, like the dried body of the old mother, which she purifies with milk to invoke the goddess of water and invite her to save her son, the superb body of the young woman purified with water from the sacred spring, filmed in a sublime street, Cissé si esthetically and definitively ranks for beauty against all ugliness, for peace against all violence, and above all for clarity (light) against all darkness (darkness).

Indeed, looking closely, Cissé tries to convince us, in a symbolic, subtle and intelligent way, that heat (contradictions and conflicts of interest) ignites (struggles and wars) which ends up producing sparks of light (hope in a new world / new society).

And this evolutionary cycle is not natural or fortuitous. It is based on “Komo” (incarnation of divine knowledge) – in the Malian tradition the teaching of Komo is based on the knowledge of signs, times and worlds. Thus, the light of creation is transformed into the light of the destruction of the old world, from whose rubble a new world is born.

Since knowledge is the basis of everything, the final confrontation between the old (the conservative father) and the new (the democratic and / or revolutionary son) leads to the great explosion of light that gives birth to the new world: the young woman of the son and his son gaze at an immensity of golden sand dunes. A new, vast and bright world.

Leave a Comment