Hyenas (Hyènes) is a movie directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty, a.k.a "the most paradoxical filmmaker in the history of African cinema", "the African Dionysus," "the prince of Colobane." Hyenas is part of Mambéty’s trilogies about the ‘power of craziness’;
Of course, I did not know any of the above details while watching Hyenas. I caught the movie halfway through and I just had to finish watching it even though I didn’t really understand what was going on. The little the movie info gave me was; ‘A woman returns to her hometown after 30 years intending to invest millions but at a terrible price’. There’s a scene where the main character Draman Drameh tries to catch a train out of town in the dead of the night, but several men surround him. These men are men from the community, his townspeople, but they are dressed in a manner reminiscent of a secret society and holding lit torches. They say they have come to bid Draman Drameh farewell and follow him to the station, but they block his way when he attempts to board the train all the while saying; ‘Get on the train, we are not stopping you from leaving.’ (or something similar).
Thus I watched the movie to its end trying to understand why the men of the town, Colobané, were preventing Draman Drameh from leaving town even though they pretended not to. I also didn’t know the reason they wanted to Draman Drameh dead. I didn’t get the complete story but I enjoyed the movie nonetheless. Then a couple of hours later I was telling my cousins how I watched this weird movie while flipping through channels on the TV and miraculously the same movie was showing on the same channel. Although I didn’t catch the rerun from the very beginning, I knew enough of the story for it to make sense.
The woman who returns to her hometown is referred to as Linguere Ramatou, from what I watched she was once pregnant with Draman Drameh’s child, a child he refused to acknowledge as his own. Due to this, Ramatou had to leave town in disgrace while her fellow villagers sneered at her (there’s a part where she says; ‘The world made me a whore, now I will turn it into a brothel’. Ramatou left to wherever, became a millionaire and return to her hometown promising to invest…only if the people of Colobané kill Draman Drameh. At first the people are loudly against it, ‘we are not like Western people who will kill our own just for money’ (one person said something along these lines) and Draman Drameh is assured of his safety.
Then things start changing, people begin walking around with imported (and expensive) boots from Burkina Faso, others show up with cars, yet others come to Draman Drameh’s general store asking for the most expensive alcoholic drinks and cigarettes, there is a newly installed chandelier in the town chapel, there is a big party in which fans, refrigerators and air conditioners are given away. Where is the money coming from? That is the first question I asked even though everything traced back to Ramatou, the next question was; With all this money, are the people of Colobané willing to murder Draman Drameh despite their ‘moral’ values?
I believe the reason the movie is called ‘Hyenas’ has to do with the public’s behaviour and how everything changes with the appearance of Ramatou. However, things do not change so drastically, because the people of Colobané have to justify their reasons for wanting to kill Draman Drameh, there was a lot of talk about justice and punishing Draman Drameh for his sins. Still, you get the feeling that the men of Colobané wouldn’t have been bothered if Ramatou was not a millionaire.
One thing in the movie that stood out to me was really how Ramatou was portrayed. She is an old woman, and in most of the scenes she appears in, she’s got young women around her. One of these women was Japanese. It seems other people have wondered about this because the presence of an ‘Asian bodyguard’ (I did not read her as a bodyguard) in Hyenas was brought up in this interview with the director, Djibril Diop Mambéty;
NFU: I noticed that Linguère Ramatou has an Asian bodyguard in Hyènes. How does she fit into this schema?
DDM: The point is not that she is Asian. The point is that everyone in Colobane–everyone everywhere–lives within a system of power that embraces the West, Africa, and the land of the rising sun. There is a scene where this woman comes in and reads: she reads of the vanity of life, the vanity of vengeance; that is totally universal. My goal was to make a continental film, one that crosses boundaries. To make Hyènes even more continental, we borrowed elephants from the Masai of Kenya, hyenas from Uganda, and people from Senegal. And to make it global, we borrowed somebody from Japan, and carnival scenes from the annual Carnival of Humanity of the French Communist Party in Paris. All of these are intended to open the horizons, to make the film universal. The film depicts a human drama. My task was to identify the enemy of humankind: money, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. I think my target is clear.
While Hyènes tells a human story to the whole world, I also wanted to pay homage to the beauty of Africa when I made the film. For me, part of that beauty is the fact that it is not very difficult to make a film in Africa. The abandoned bags of rice that the people of Colobane wear at the end of the film did not cost much; it was only the equipment for the production that was a little expensive. I have a great desire to demystify cinema–especially the financial aspect of cinema. Africa is rich in cinema, in images. Hollywood could not have made this film, no matter how much money they spent. The future belongs to images. Students, like the children I referred to earlier, are waiting to discover that making a film is a matter of love, not money.
Hyenas is a great movie, now I just have to sit and hope I catch another of Mambéty’s movies, Touki Bouki seems interesting.