The village of Colobane, devastated by drought and unemployment, sees sudden hope for the future with the arrival of a former citizen, Linguère Ramatou (Ami Diakhate), who left her hometown when still a young woman, but now returns with a great fortune. The grocer Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diouf), one of Colobane’s leading citizens and Ramatou’s former lover, is selected to lead a welcoming committee, but after a seemingly tender reunion to the two, Ramatou reveals the true depths of her bitterness towards Dramaan Drameh, who impregnated her and denied his responsibility, resulting in her being sent into an uncaring world where she had to turn to prostitution to survive.
She offers the villagers a hard deal: One hundred billion dalasis (Gambian currency) in exchange for the death of Dramaan Drameh. The citizens of Colobane refuse, but as the village is flooded with consumer goods, they are driven deeper and deeper into debt, forcing them to make a hard collective decision. Will it be the money, or Dramaan Drameh’s life?
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
DJIBRIL DIOP MAMBÉTY (Director) was a Senegalese director, actor, composer, and poet. His filmmaking output represents one of the most remarkable compact bodies of work in all of cinema, consisting of two feature (Touki Bouki, 1973; Hyenas, 1992) and five short films (Contras’ City, 1969; Badou Boy, 1970; Parlons grand-mére, 1989; Le franc, 1995; La petite vendeuse de soleil, 1999) produced during a short life of fifty-three years, ended by lung cancer.
Born in 1945 in Colobane, outside of Dakar, the son of an imam and member of the Lebou tribe, Mambéty began his creative life as an aspiring actor, but was thrown out of the National Theater Daniel Sorano for a perceived lack of discipline. This rebuke spurred the young man to pursue his passion for film, and without formal training, he directed his experimental first short at age twenty-three, a satirical survey of Dakar’s colonial architecture. Gaining an international reputation after his anti-establishment Badou Boy, a burlesque following a street-smart young punk outwitting an oafish cop, won the Silver Tanit at the 1970 Carthage film Festival in Tunisia, Mambéty undertook his first feature. The result, Touki Bouki—the title translates as The Hyena’s Journey—was a wildly unconventional work, politically and sexually provocative, which set the world on fire, taking awards from the Moscow and Cannes Film Festivals.
Touki Bouki, the stylistically freewheeling story of a hip, hustling Senegalese couple united by their dream of an escape to Europe and a film that offered a snapshot of African society in its postcolonial hangover is today acknowledged as a masterpiece, but its success was followed by a nearly twenty-year hiatus from feature filmmaking, in the space of which Mambéty worked as an actor in Senegal and Italy. He finally returned, undiminished in power, with Hyenas, based on a 1956 play by the Swiss-German writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Der Besuch der Alten Dame, or The Visit. Making the material very much his own, Mambéty conceived of Hyenas as a spiritual sequel of sorts to Touki Bouki, and the centerpiece of a proposed trilogy on the abuse of power and the deleterious effects of Western materialism on his native land.
Essay: “Touki bouki: Mambéty and Modernity” by Richard Porton | Contras’ City clip | Watch Touki Bouki on The Criterion Channel | Badou Boy clip | Watch La petite vendeuse de sole on Kanopy | Le franc clip
MATTHIAS KÄLIN (Cinematographer) was a Swiss-born cinematographer and director; he was born in Aarau in 1953, and died in Portugal in 2008, aged fifty-five. Hyenas was not Kälin’s first outing in Africa: he had previously shot, with the Haitian director Raoul Peck, the 1990 documentary Lumumba: The Death of a Prophet, concerning assassinated Prime Minister of Zaire Patrice Lumumba, as well as the 1989 film Yaaba, a Swiss-Burkinabé co-production directed by Mambéty’s friend, the Burkinabé filmmaker Idrissa Oeédraoko, and produced by Pierre-Alain Meier. The arresting beauty of Kälin’s images is an essential element of Hyenas, and he was recognized by Variety’s Deborah Young for “capturing both village color and the golden African desert in sharp images.”
In his over thirty-year career, Kälin worked most extensively in nonfiction, both in Switzerland and abroad. Additionally, he co-directed, with Meier, Douleur d’amour, a 1987 documentary about the trans community in São Paulo, and only the year before his death completed his second directorial outing, Josephson Bildhauer.
A NOTE ON THE CAST
Djibril Diop Mambéty never worked with the same performers twice, and never with professional actors. The case of Hyenas is no exception. Insofar as is known, Hyenas is a first film for all of its central performers, including Mansour Diouf (Dramaan Drameh) and Ami Diakhate (Linguère Ramatou), who was discovered by Mambéty selling soup in a Dakar market. The lone exception to this rule is Mambéty himself, playing the former local magistrate of Colobane, now in the service of Ramatou.
WASIS DIOP (Composer) is a Dakar, Senegal-born musician; the younger brother of Djibril Diop Mambéty, born 1950, known for his intermixture of traditional Senegalese folk music with jazz and pop influences. After traveling to Paris in the 1970s with the intention of studying engineering, Diop instead immersed himself in music, forming the group West African Cosmos. He began a solo career in 1979, marked by collaborations with Japanese jazz saxophonist Yasuaki Shimizu and Black Heritage vocalist Marie-France Anglade, then achieved a new level of success with the release of his soundtrack album to the film Hyenas. Of the score, the Bissau-Guinean/Senegalese director Alain Gomis has called it “somehow both uplifting and terribly dramatic; it takes you into a completely unique world.”
Since the watershed moment of Hyenas, Diop has continued to work steadily as a solo recording artist and soundtrack composer, his most significant ongoing cinematic collaboration being with Chadian director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun on the films Daratt (2006), A Screaming Man (2010), and A Season in France (2017). His daughter, Mati Diop, is an actress and director, and he stars as himself in her 2013 Mille soleils, a film that revisits the legacy of her uncle’s Touki Bouki.
Mati Diop’s latest film, Atlantics, has been selected as Senegal’s official entry for the best international feature film category at the 92nd Academy Awards. The film will be released in select theaters on Nov. 15, and on Netflix on Nov. 29 (Variety).
▶︎ Check out the first trailer, available exclusively on IndieWire
LOREDANA CRISTELLI (Editor) is an Italian-born, Switzerland-based film editor. Born in Italy in 1957, she studied photography in Zürich, then began an apprenticeship as an assistant editor which included working on films by Alain Tanner, Jean-Luc Godard, and Nicolas Gessnet. Beginning her career as a lead editor, among her first assignments were 1987’s Ikaria BP 1447, shot by Matthias Kälin and directed by Pierre-Alain Meier, and the Meier-produced 1989 Yaaba, a Swiss-Burkinabé co-production directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty’s friend, the Burkinabé filmmaker Idrissa Oeédraoko. Following her celebrated collaboration with Mambéty on Hyenas, to whose unorthodox, stuttering rhythms she contributed greatly, she has continued to work regularly with Swiss filmmakers including Patricia Plattner, Bruno Moll, Jacqueline Veuve, and Nino Jacusso.
PIERRE-ALAIN MEIER (Producer) is a Swiss director and producer, born in Delémont in 1952. In his early filmmaking efforts, including Douleur d’amour, a documentary about the trans community in São Paulo which he co-directed with Matthias Kälin, and Ikaria BP 1447, shot by Kälin and edited by Loredana Cristelli, he assembled a close group of collaborators who would be essential to his efforts with his company Thelma Film AG, founded in 1988. Through his efforts in Thelma Film, Meier was an invaluable friend to African cinema, supporting movies by the Burkinabé directors Idrissa Oeédraoko and S. Pierre Yameogo—1989’s Yaaba and 1991’s Laafi – Tout va bien—as well as the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty’s 1992 Hyenas. Meier continues to produce and direct today under the auspices of Prince Film SA, founded in 2005.
OUMOU SY (Costume Designer) is a fashion maven born to a Toucouleur Muslim family in Podor, Senegal in 1952, and raised in the coastal city of St. Louis. Self-taught in her trade, she began in the 1980s to undertake collaborations with fellow African artists working in film, theater, dance, and music, including Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour.
Senegal’s best-known fashion designer and celebrated “Queen of Couture”, Sy operates a prêt-à-porter line that has been sold in boutiques in Dakar, New York, Paris, and Geneva. In 2018, in conjunction with the National Museum of African Art’s exhibition “Good as Gold: Fashioning Senegalese Women,” Sy designed what the Smithsonian Institute described as “a new haute couture ensemble inspired by the strength and savoir-faire of Senegalese women for the museum’s collection, which will be unveiled in the exhibition.”
Text and research by Nick Pinkerton.
Nick Pinkerton is a Cincinnati-born, Brooklyn-based writer focused on moving image-based art. His writing has appeared in Film Comment, Sight & Sound,Artforum, Frieze, Reverse Shot, 4 Columns, The Baffler, Harper’s, and the Village Voice, among other venues.
Additional research provided by Amélie Garin-Davet.
Amélie Garin-Davet is the Program Officer, Cinema for the Cultural Services French Embassy in the United States.
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