BRIGHTNESS is very likely the most highly praised African film made to date--a reflection both of the film's merit and of the West's lack of critical attention to Third World films. Boosted by a Special Jury Prize at the 1987 Cannes Film Festival and favorable receptions at the Berlin and New York Festivals, BRIGHTNESS fast became the film to see in 1988. Whatever artistic merit the film does or doesn't have (and some critics doubt that it is as great as many claim), it found an audience--an audience that, for the most part, left the film completely baffled and profoundly moved. Like the main character, the audience became involved in a search for knowledge and the hope of enlightment.
The film opens with a complicated written description of various mystical symbols and rituals of the Bambara tribe and a nutshell introduction to Komo--a science of the gods based on the elements of "nature" and key to understanding the greater thrust of the film. The story of a man's (Kane) search for his evil, all-powerful shaman father (Sanogo), the seemingly simple, episodic saga takes on elements of fantasy as its young hero acquires talismans which give him increasingly great magical powers. In a classic showdown we see not only the powers of good and evil finally confront each other, but also the inevitable conflict between father and son enacted on a mythic scale. We also see the embodiment of future generations as a young boy (played by producer-director-writer Cisse's son) literally discovers remnants of the conflict and figuratively acquires the knowledge of his ancestors. Marvelously photographed (the image of Kane and Sangare bathing under the waterfall is unforgettable) and perfectly acted by a cast of nonprofessionals (Sanogo, for example, was a real-life shaman), the production of BRIGHTNESS represents both a triumph over incredible odds (bad weather, financial woes, the death of actor Sarr) and a provocative, creative use by Cisse of indigenous folk mythology.