Saturday, August 05, 2006

Yeelen (1987)

"Dude, stop being so rude, just because it looks stupid doesn't mean the stick ain't MAGIC!"

Genre: Fantasy Adventure Drama (Mali, Burkina Faso, France, West Germany)

Starring: Issiaka Kane, Nimanto Sanogo

Directed By: Souleymane Cissé

Overview: For a decade a son and his mother have been fleeing from the powerful Komo Cult of magicians, lead by none other but his own father. Now a young sorcerer, he begins his quest to seeks out the allies and power to finally face his enemies.

Acting: Ouch. Made by Africans for Africans starring real Africans. It's authentic, but don't make me swallow that it's well cast, because it isn't. The lead, his mother and most of the supporting cast was desperately in need of some lessons, with only two actors worth their salt. My standard research reveals that these people haven't been in much else, and I'm not surprised. This suffered, and not in a quaint and noble way. Well, maybe a LITTLE noble.
Rating: 4

Cinematography: Long takes of the panoramic savannas of the African desert, authentic costumes with vibrant war-paint, this is the reason to watch. Clearly the piff-poof effects of flaming swords and other sorcerous tricks are not anywhere near big-budget enough to find as frightening as intended, so sadly that's a bit of a kick in the mood, but this was a professional undertaking nonetheless.
Rating: 7

Script: This suffers the taint of bottleneck storytelling. We begin with a bit of the legend, then mother springs all the reasons for everything on us all at once, a little too much too soon, and our great and selfless hero flaunts a little too much pride for us to accept the pure archetype he's meant to represent. There is some redemption in the scenes in the allied village, even though somewhere along the way the chief no longer needed his translator. If you're going to have scenes where language barriers are an issue, don't make them just go away when it's convenient, that's a poor conflict catalyst.
Rating: 6

Plot: I had to scrounge to find out the plot. It's more of an abstract film, drawing on elements of symbolism and myth, telling a tale of fresh youth against the rotting old guard. When the time came for an explanation as to why the father was after the son, the only answer that came was, "You will learn that when the maggots eat your rotting corpse."

Guy, that's not an answer, and rather than being all wowed by the depth, you wonder if there's a reason at all.
Rating: 5

Mood: It's interesting how this film takes us to a fantastical and interesting place then makes the mind (my western mind, at least) reel with a "What that hell was that?" moment. The limitations of the budget and the shoddy acting reminded me too often how this was not 13th century Mali, and overall I felt that this tale was completely without direction. We were not left with nearly enough connection to the father's role, to the son's role or to their symbolic design. I've been all into the Avant-Garde film of late, and had this been an attempt at that I would have been far more forgiving, but no, this is a legend and a legend has heroes and villains and conclusions and morals. Weak.
Rating: 5

Two words: Wife. Boing.

Overall Rating: 54% (I Wasn't Quite Yellin' For This To Stop, But...)

Aftertaste: It wasn't that bad. It had it's moments, but when you have a story that you know is going in a direction with thematic styles that you know will end in a conclusion, you need an ending that is explainable. Just because I have the internet doesn't mean I have to go using it to understand what you meant to do there. As lesson telling legends go though, this is bunk.