Stately in its simplicity, but with the formidability of folklore, Tilaï examines how community values impact the family dynamic, treating the war between honor and emotion as a breeding ground for duplicity and violence. At the center of this battle is the concept of fatherhood, both as family head and creator of “the law,” seen here as a destructive force, capable of orchestrating tragedy through unwavering allegiance to archaic moral standards. Standing in opposition to this authoritarian power is youthful longing, encapsulated in the pillow talk of our star-crossed leads and the fickle conscience of a devoted brother. Though Idrissa Ouédraogo’s script favors these forlorn players, he never absolves them of their transgressions, likening deception to participation in the patriarchal game and enriching his tale of domestic woe with an impartiality free of sanctimonious sermonizing.
Fortified by righteous anger and the echo of his baritone bone flute, Saga (Rasmané Ouédraogo) confronts his brother about their father’s arranged marriage to an old flame, igniting unspoken indignation and suspicion within their tradition-bound village. Upon realizing that his declaration of love has been reciprocated by the reluctant bride (Ina Cissé), Saga initiates romance and plots their escape, fantasizing about transforming a nocturnal liaison into an irrefutable union. Though the intentions of the reconciled pair are innocent, the clandestine nature of their tryst demands deceit, ensnaring their kith and kin in a downward spiral culminating in banishment and death.
Despite the earnestness of their circumstances and the equity of the presentation, Ouédraogo inculcates his protagonists with a sense of humor and benevolence that lends his parable a sweeping universality, spurning the specificity of era and location to evince the comprehensive human experience. The hushed purr of the sound design and score also strip the proceedings of stilted melodrama, allowing each performance to resonate above the whirligig of soft desert winds and the slink of fitfully-plucked bass strings.
By chastening the production and demonstrating the ordinary within the esoteric, Idrissa Ouédraogo eschewed the superficiality of the romantic comedy, perceiving the quandary at the intersection between love and law and the actual ramifications of sexual double-dealing. In lieu of suspense and slapstick, Ouédraogo manifested morality through Kougri (Assane Ouédraogo), Saga’s brother and only penitent, representing compassion and intelligence in his lament for family and structure. At the core of this conflicted heart lies the imbalance between progress and tradition, a nexus wrought with frustration and despair, only persevering through fabrications that intend to subvert moral authority, but inadvertently tighten its hold.
Tilaï (Les Films de l’Avenir, 1990)
Written and Directed by Idrissa Ouédraogo
Photographed by Pierre-Laurent Chénieux and Jean Monsigny