10 July 2013

Neo-Colonialism in Mambety's 'Hyenas'

Friedrich Durenmatt's play 'The Visit,' filtered through Bernhard Wicki's 1964 film adaptation starring Ingrid Bergman, provided the storyline for Djibril Diop Mambety's 1992 film 'Hyenas,' although Mambety gave the story a Senegalese flavor. Introduced as a representative of the World Bank, an incredibly rich woman, Linguere Ramatou (played by Ami Diakhate), returns to Colobane, the town of her birth--and, we eventually learn, her shame. In revenge for vicious treatment by her former lover Draman Drameh (played by Mansour Diouf), who had paid two other men to say they had slept with her, she promises the village elders to bankroll her eceonomically depressed hometown if they will only do just one little thing for her: kill Drameh. Of course they refuse, with high moral statements about the sanctity of life; of course they gradually give in as they are seduced by the consumer goods 'the visitor' can produce for them.

Both Drameh and Ramatou, Mambety implies, are marginalized people: in the end, they are of Colobane but not acceptable to Colobane, for very different reasons. The townspeople, dressed in rice bags, literally devour Drameh like the hyenas they represent. After he vanishes, the town itself disappears under the blade of the bulldozer: what will rise in its place (Senegalese audiences would know) is the 'real-life Colobane, a notorious thieve's market on the edge of Dakar' and, it turns out, the childhood home of the director.

Even within the renaissance of African filmmaking at the end of the twentieth century, Mambety was unusual, adapting a modern German play to African conditions. But more than that: acknowledging his culture's neocolonial background, he borrowed elephants from the Masai of Kenya and hyenas from Uganda, and to make it global, he borrowed Ramatou's bodyguard from Japan and imitated scenes from the annual Carnival of Humanity of the French Communist Party in France. Why? 'My task was to identify the enemy of humankind; money, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. I think my target is clear.'

[The foregoing note, slightly edited for TV Multiversity, was written by Tom Zaniello and originally published in The Cinema of Globalization: A Guide to Films about the New Economic Order (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2007, pp. 95-96).]

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