(director/writer: Idrissa Ouedraogo; cinematographer: Matthias Kalin; editor: Loredana Cristelli; music: Francis Bebey; cast:Roukietou Barry (Nopoko), Noufou Ouedraogo (Bila), Fatimata Sanga (Sana), Adama Ouedraogo (Kougri), Amade Toure (Tibo), Ousmane Sawadogo(Taryam), Adame Sidibe(Razougou), Rasmane Ouedraogo(Noaga); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Idrissa Ouedraogo/Pierre Alain Meier/Freddy Denaes; New Yorker Video; 1989-Burkina Faso-in Mooré with English subtitles)

“The touching fairy-tale pic has a polished lush look, and the naturalistic performances make it look convincingly realistic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

African filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo (“Kato Kato”/”Anger of the Gods”/”Obi”)beautifully shoots a simplistic but endearing lucid film about village life inthe barren plains of Burkina Faso (a village of mud homes very similar to the one where the director was raised), and offers us in a sparse language the timeless tale of learning tolerance.It’s in the Moor√© language of Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta). The touching fairy-tale pic has a polished lush look, and the naturalistic performances make it look convincingly realistic. Yaaba was the 1989 winner of the International Critics Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

The title character Sana (Fatimata Sanga) is an elderly woman who has been ostracized by her superstitious villagers and forced to live a lonely life at the village’s outskirts, as she’s thought of as a witch because her mother died at child-birth and her grief-stricken father died soon afterwards and the villagers ignorantly blamed the baby for the death of her parents. In truth Sana is a kindly woman who possesses great wisdom, compassion and understanding. While the villagers are made up of various ordinary people living traditional lives, with many being superstitious, gossips, arguers, adulterers, persecutors and petty thieves.

Bila (Noufou Ouedraogo) is a playful adolescent who loves to frolic with his younger beautiful teasing cousin Nopoko (Barry Roukietou). The children meet Sana while playing by the cemetery one day and Bila befriends her–even calling her “Yaaba” (Grandmother) to her great joy. When the villagers accuse the old woman falsely of setting a fire and blame her for their misfortunes, Bila knows Sana is innocent because he was with her at the time of the fire.

When three bully children fight with Bila, Nopoko comes to his rescue and she gets cut in the arm with a rusty knife. Nopoko gets very sick and is dying, but the superstitious villagers refuse to allow Sana to help when she sends a healer with a potion to cure the tetanus infection.

The innocent children learn that their adult role models are ignorant and feel invigorated that the old woman offers them a new way of looking at the world through an open-minded and more generous way to exist. The way this primitive society reveals its ignorance and intolerance is not that different from the civilized world’s bias against those people it doesn’t wish to understand. Though more like a children’s pic in its earnest simplistic message, its universal message nevertheless bears repeating. This well-executed family value drama is a most positive and heart-felt film, that proves a film made in so-called backward Africa can be a poignant one whose message for tolerance can also resonate in the modern western world.

Incidentally, the two children are relatives of the director.

Yaaba Poster