YAABA

Director: Idrissa Ouedraogo
Year: 1989
Country: Burkina Faso

Like several other West African nations, there’s actually quite a strong film industry in Burkina Faso. Yaaba is the second film by Idrissa Ouedraogo, one of the country’s best known directors. Very few African films find success overseas, and the ones that do are almost always in Colonial languages like French or Portuguese. Yaaba, however, is in a Burkinabé dialect instead, being aimed more at a local audience.

The film is set in a small, traditional Burkinabé village, and follows the friendship between a young boy named Bila and a mysterious old woman who he calls “Yaaba” (grandmother). Yaaba has been ostracised by most of the villagers, who accuse her of witchcraft. With no family of her own she has become a scapegoat for any misfortune in the community. When the village granary burns down early in the film, for example, Yaaba gets the blame even after Bila vouches that she was elsewhere at the time.

yaaba1
Bila and his cousin tend the grave of Bila’s mother in the opening scene.

Many of the villagers try to discourage Bila from spending time with the old woman, including his father. With endearing childlike rebelliousness and curiosity, Bila ignores them all. The scenes of Bila and Yaaba spending time together are quite touching. Their friendship is based on mutual respect – something each of them wants, but struggle to get from anyone else. Bila provides Yaaba with food and keeps her company, and Yaaba becomes something of a maternal figure for him.

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Bila pays Yaaba a visit, against his father’s wishes.

Yaaba runs for a mere 85 minutes, but manages to create the sense of an intricate and fully realised community where, just like the town in my previous entry The Dressmaker, everyone has something to hide. Despite the unfair abuse Yaaba has endured from the villagers, she teaches Bila not to judge others for their faults, but to live with compassion and understanding. It’s a fairly straightforward story with a strong moral centre. Act kindly, respect your elders, and look for the best in people. Short and sweet, it’s a simple parable of tolerance and acceptance. Yaaba is gently told, well put-together, and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

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