Tuesday, 27 March 2012
#33 Mali — Yeelen (1967)
Yeelen marks the second African film I have seen and reviewed, after Moolaadé. In my review for Moolaadé, I wrote about how far removed it was from Western culture and film-making styles. If anything, Yeelen is even further away from the comfort zone of your average Westerner; its focus on Malinese sorcery and mysticism makes a lot of the more subtle aspects of the story go right over most of our heads.
Niankoro is on the run from his sorcerer father for stealing fetishes from his tribe. He journeys to his uncle to try and get help to fight whatever his father throws at him. His journey takes him through troubled villages and vast wastelands where he must use his hereditary magical powers to survive.
The film is a great example of the story and presentation strengthening each other through common ground. The mystical nature of the plot is reflected in the rife use of symbolism (a lot of which, I'll admit, I didn't understand), the eccentric but beautiful cinematography and the sparse tribal/electric jazz soundtrack. These elements together create a strong cohesion, where separately they would jarringly disregard standard cinematic technique.
Aesthetically, the film is spot on. The images really capture the beauty and magic of the plains where the action takes place, and a Tarkovsky-esque appreciation of water is displayed as a counterpoint to those dry, sun-licked frames. The editing style is very loose, which helps strengthen the otherworldly feel of the film.
The symbolism in Yeelen is very dense, but any viewer who pays attention should be able to get the basics. Much of it relies on the framing of the images and by bringing attention to the editing to relate the characters to animals and celestial bodies, make sweeping humanistic statements and most likely give more cultural context to proceedings which would require a greater knowledge of the world the film exists in to understand. As such, far more is implied than is explicitly shown, which would make multiple viewings very rewarding.
The very slow pace of the film, coupled with the dense content means that a great deal of patience and attention is required to fully appreciate all of its aspects. It isn't as glacial as, say, Sátántangó or Jeanne Dielman, so even if you disliked films of their ilk, I'd still suggest giving this a try.
Yeelen is a very interesting and incredibly "different" film. I think I'd need to see it again to gain a better appreciation of its intricacies, but I believe it can be thoroughly enjoyed for its beautiful imagery, mystical atmosphere and representation of a far-away land and culture.