Yeelen (which means "light", or "brightness" in Bambara) stands out from Cisse’s other films, which are set in an urban context. This film speaks out against abusive power.
There are less Bambara symbols than we may thin: a lot of the symbols present in the film come from Cisse’s imagination.
The opening credits can be seen as a prologue. They inform the spectator about the world, the era the film is set in. We are told it’s a myth with no definite era, but the sunrise is an allusion to the beginning of the world.
The beginning prepares us for the rest of the film.
Yeelen is first and foremost a tale with initiatory notions: it takes place in a timeless period ("Once upon a time" is written at the beginning of the film) ; there is also a moral to the story, which is that we should acquire knowledge and values. Niankoro goes from being withdrawn and weak to being mature and powerful. He will acquire important qualities: he takes the decision not to flee from his father and acquires the will to confront him. He decides to put right his mistake (talking about his parents’ intimate past, which is an insult to them in the Bambara culture) by following his mother’s advice and confronting his father. This is a test of his physical courage. Niankoro acquires strength and power, values that make him equal to his father.
The characters each incorporate a duality: Niankoro starts off as a fragile boy, but ends up fighting his father ; his mother becomes part of him by protecting him through the gods. The father, Soma, is coupled with the Kore Wing (a sacrificial statue), which leads him to his son. Niankoro’s uncle, Bofing, appears at the beginning as a vision in e twater, but is not seen again until the end, when Niankoro finds him. When he disappears in the water, the piece of traditional music which can be heard is a tribute to the actor, who died while they were shooting the film. Although the music is out of place in this scene, Cisse chooses to risk making a mistake in order to remain faithful to his actors.