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Monday, March 20, 2006

This week at the SFC: Hyenas

Thursday March 23rd

This Thursday STUDIOFILMCLUB is pleased to be screening HYENAS by the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety -- one of Africa's greatest filmmakers (1945-1998).

Hyenas (Ramatou) (Djibril Diop Mambety/Senegal/1998/110')

As a beautiful young woman living in Colobane (the village in which the film is set), Linguere Ramatou fell in love with Dramaan Drameh. She became pregnant. He denied paternity. He bribed two men to say they had slept with her. She was driven from the village in disgrace. Dramaan married a wealthy wife and prospered. That was years before the time of the events portrayed in the film.

Ramatou has become miraculously wealthy--the richest woman in the world--rich as "the World Bank." She returns to the village seeking justice and revenge. Since she left, the village (and Africa itself) has become impoverished and corrupt. Dramaan "runs a dilapidated bar/general store . . . where the corrupt and indolent townsfolk drown their ennui in cheap wine."

Ramatou offers the village "a trillion dollars"--if they will kill Dramaan--the man who betrayed and destroyed her. She says, "The world made a whore of me. I want to turn the world into a whorehouse." The villagers express outrage at first but then are "easily seduced by air conditioners, refrigerators, and television sets." The action of the film focuses mainly on the change--the seduction and the yielding of Colobane--or if you prefer, the final decay, degeneration, and corruption of the village. In the end, the people, the mayor, the priest, and the professor all join together in the name of the consumer society to "kill" Dramaan. (Quotations, except for Ramatou, from California Newsreel.)

This is a "hybrid" film. That is, Mambety has mixed European film technique, a Swiss play, and an African voice and perspective to create a distinctly African film. Mambety believes that African film makers can "reinvent" cinema. They can (and should?), in other words, create a distinct voice and vision. But at the same time, they should push African film toward international significance. Mambety certainly attempts that in both Touki-Bouki (his first film) and Hyenas.

Hyenas is an adaptation of The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt. (You needn't know the play to understand the issues.) Mambety intends the film as homage to "the great Friedrich." It follows the plot of the play closely. But Mambety has transformed that plot through location, image, symbolism, story, and theme. Hyenas is not simply The Visit in African costume--The Visit in-the-bush, so to speak.

The animal imagery and symbolism provides one obvious example. The powerful sense of place, another. In a 1993 interview, Mambety explains his sense of the animal images--hyena, elephant, lion, bird. Those images and meanings, sustained through the film by continual cutting from people and the narrative to the animals, distinguish the film aesthetically and thematically from its source.

Other--sometimes strange, even surreal--images and techniques reveal an aesthetic quite distinct from Western and Hollywood films and even from other African films. For example: the cutting from people to animals, the old man (perhaps a griot?) who wanders through the film, the dress of the townspeople in the judgment scene, the Japanese woman in uniform with handcuffs and a CB radio (?) who reads "The International Herald Tribune," the character, Gaana, whom Mambety himself plays, the bizarre representation of Colobane as an amusement park, the closing images of bulldozer, city, dozer tracks in the sand, and the Baobab tree.

Like many other African films, Hyenas expresses strong political, cultural, and moral themes. Note especially the men present , after all the other villagers leave, after the killing of *******. The mayor, the priest, and the professor--government, religion, and education, the major social institutions--approve and lead the village in its action.

Read "THE HYENA'S LAST LAUGH: A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety" by N. Frank Ukadike, from TRANSITION 78

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