64. “Hyenas”, Djibril Diop Mambety (1992)

Part of The 100 Greatest Movies I’ve Ever Seen list.

Hyenas

Hyenas aka Hyènes

dir. Djibril Diop Mambety (1992), scr. Djibril Diop Mambety based on the play The Visit by Freidrich Durrenmatt cin. Matthias Kalin with Ami Diakhate, Djibril Diop Mambety, and Mansour Diouf

In 100 words: Sembene may have laid out the foundation for great African cinema that challenges western intrusion, but Mambety takes its further with a more acidic takedown of neoliberalism, international development, and African self-destruction in this bitter but comedic gem, ironically adapted from a European play. Begins with a herd of elephants that transitions to a similarly indolent group of African men sets the tone immediately, while establishing the film’s recurring motif and playful but intelligent visuals. Colorful characters fill the screen, aided by Mambety’s sharp script that deconstructs African poverty as a failure of human behaviors. A landmark of African cinema.

Other Movies for Context: Mambety’s filmography is tragically short, but his debut film Touki Bouki (1973) felt like a more rebellious and definitely Frenchier version of African cinema that Sembene laid out. Speaking of Ousmane Sembene, who’s often called the Father of African cinema, his films feel similar to Mambety, and not just because of their continental locations. Sembene’s filmography offers such strong critical dissection of post-colonialism, most prominently in Borom Sarret (1963), Xala (1975), which barely missed my Top 100, and Black Girl (1968); religion, with Ceddo (1977), and female circumcision, Moolaade (2004). I personally love all of these. They’re primers for the great African cinema that too few people care to watch.

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