The Laugh of the Hyena
Djibril Diop-Mambéty, who was born in Colobane, Senegal in 1945, is an outstanding African film-maker, despite the fact that he only produced a few films. He was awarded the Critics´ Prize in Cannes and the Special Jury-Prize in Moscow. He died in Paris in 1988.
With the first short film he shot in 1969, Contras`City, Djibril Diop-Mambéty also filmed Africa´s first satirical film. To the Senegalese director, who was born in 1945 in Colobane near Dakar, film meant more than simply portraying the world as it was. In his films, the world is created by the imaginations and fantasies of his protagonists. He concentrates on people on the edge of society, since they "contribute more to the development of a society than conformists", as he stated. For Mambety these are the people who, above all, have not lost the ability to dream.
In "Touki Bouki", he tells the story of a young man who comes to the city, Dakar, with his cattle herd, dreams of modern "western" life there, especially of Paris, its promises as sung by Josephine Baker, and the ship which could take him to Europe, but which he eventually does not board.
In "Touki Bouki", Mambety maintains his satirical tone and the sharpness of his first two films. The audience is challenged by the collage of political and sexual images, but is also enchanted by use of music and colour. The central themes of his film are material wealth, youth, deception and disappointment: Mori and Anta are a young, modern Senegalese couple who flee from their parents, their home - and their future. They try to raise money for boat tickets to Paris. But the way in which Mambety tells the story in this film is more important than the plot. Its unconventionally and confidently broken narrative style has been rightly compared with the Brazilian cinema novo.
In Wolof, the Senegalese language, "Touki Bouki" more or less means "The Hyena´s Journey", and "Hyènes" is also the title of Mambéty´s second full length feature film –an image-intensive adaptation of Dürrenmatt´s "Besuch der alten Dame", in collaboration with the Swiss producer Pierre-Alain Meier, which was filmed in his home town of Colobane in 1991/1992. The two films are part of a trilogy on power and madness which remained unfinished due to his untimely death. "Hyènes" deals with human greed, and according to Mambety, how neo-colonialist structures in Africa destroy the hope of independence with false promises of western materialism.
"We have sold our souls cheaply!“, Mambety concludes, though he never described himself as a political director. Yet his films always refer to the economic reality of his country, which is entirely dependent on the World Bank, monetary funds and French economic policy. This is true for his last two films. They were part of a trilogy on "The story of small people" (Histoires de petites gens).
"Le Franc" and "La petite vendeuse de soleil" are from parables on the lives of people who must ask themselves the same question every morning, namely how to gather the most fundamentally necessary means to survive. The small people in this trilogy are the counterparts to the greed of the hyenas in his longer feature films. "Le Franc" is the story of a poor musician who wins the lottery, and an odyssey through the daily life of Dakar. The money drives him mad, but he finally wins because of his ability to dream. This is just like the newspaper seller Sili in the film "La petite vendeuse de soleil", who lives on the streets and moves around with the help of her two crutches, never ceasing to dream of one day becoming a newspaper seller, although this is an exclusively male job.
“La petite vendeuse de soleil is the second part of a trilogy with which I would like to show my respect for the courage of children on the streets. The children´s love encourages me to defy those whose wealth does not touch their own souls," comments Mambety. Mambety wanted to film the third part of the "Story of small people" and the third part of the trilogy on power and madness. "Then," as he said, "I wanted to discuss the state of the world with God."
Events at the HKW:
August 6, 1999
The greatest directors from Africa, Asia, Latin America
Organiser: House of World Cultures
Djibril Diop Mambety was born in Colobane near Dakar in 1945. He graduated from acting school and collaborated on Senegalese and Italian films. In 1969, he presented the short film "Contras´city", producing the longer film "Badou Boy", on street children in Dakar, the following year. His first full-length feature film ensured that Mambety´s name is always mentioned together with that of his countryman Sembène Ousmane. He received the Critics´ Prize in Cannes for "Touki Bouki" (1972). In the same year, he spent some time in Rome, where he met Pier Paolo Pasolini amongst others.
His participation in the work of his colleagues is also underlined by his short film "Parlons Grand-mère" (1989), which he produced on the margins of Idrissa Ouedraogo´s "Yaaba" in Burkina Faso. In the early nineties, Mambety opened a school in Dakar: the "Foundation Yaadi Koone - Pour l´enfance et la nature“. He produced "Hyènes", ana adaptation of Dürrenmatts "Der Besuch der Alten Dame" in 1992. His final years were dedicated to the trilogy project "Histoires de petites gens". The first part, "Le Franc", was premiered in 1994 at the locarno Film Festival. The middle film, "La petite vendeuse de soleil", which is also 45 minutes long and is also set in Dakar, was released posthumously in 1999. Djibril Diop-Mambéty could, however, finish most of it before dying of lung cancer on July 23rd, 1998.