Mambety, Djibril Diop

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MAMBETY, Djibril Diop

Nationality: Senegalese. Born: Dakar, Senegal, 1945. Education: Attended Islamic schools and French high school, Dakar. Career: No formal training in filmmaking; received equipment for first film from the French Cultural Center, Dakar, 1960s; stage actor and filmmaker, Daniel Sorano Theatre, Dakar, 1960s. Awards: Silver Tanit Award, Carthage Film Festival, for Badou Boy, 1970; International Critics' Award, Cannes Festival, and Special Jury Award, Moscow Film Festival, for Touki Bouki, 1973; Gold Tanit, Carthage Film Festival, for Le Franc, 1994. Died: Of lung cancer in a Parisian hospital, 23 July 1998.

Films as Director:


Contras City (A City of Contrasts); Badou Boy (Bad Boy)


Touki Bouki (Journey of the Hyena)


Parlons, grand-mère (Let's Speak, Grandmother)


Hyènes (Hyenas)


Le Franc (The Franc)


La petite vendeuse de soleil (The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun)


By MAMBETY: articles—

"African Conversations," interview with June Givanni, in Sight andSound (London) September 1995.

"The Hyena's Last Laugh: A Conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety," interview with N. Frank Ukadike, in Transition, vol. 8, no. 2, 1999.

On MAMBETY: books—

Ukadike, Nwachuku Frank, Black African Cinema, Berkeley, 1994.

Barlet, Olivier, Les cinémas d'Afrique noire: le regard en question, Paris, 1996.

Bakari, I., and Mbye B. Cham, African Experiences of Cinema, London, 1996.

Russel, Sharon, Guide to African Cinema, Westport, Connecticut, 1998.

On MAMBETY: articles—

Stadler, Eva Maria, "Francophonie et cinéma: L'Exemple de deux cinéastes senegalais," in Francographies: Bulletin de la Sociétedes Professeurs Francais et Francophones d'Amérique, Special Edition, 1993.

Rayfienld, J.R., "Hyenas: The Message and the Messenger," in Research in African Literatures, vol. 26, no. 3, Fall 1995.

Pfaff, Francoise, "New African Cinema," in Cineaste, vol. 22, no. 4, Fall 1996.

Essar, Dennis, "Hyenas," in African Arts, vol. 29, no. 4, Autumn 1996.

Porton, Richard, "Hyenas," in Cineaste, vol. 23, no. 2, Spring 1997.

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Djibril Diop Mambety's work is among the most enigmatic and imaginative in African cinema. This is partially due to his complex use of sound and imagery, which has inspired a wide variety of interpretations. Mambety's employment of visual and auditory symbols reveals both a worldly perspective and a deep concern for marginalized people in his home country. Ultimately, the meanings of Mambety's films are left to the viewers. As Mambety explains, "when a story ends, or 'falls into the ocean,' as we say—it creates dreams."

Mambety's best-known works are two trilogies. The first is a trilogy of feature films, which includes Touki Bouki (Journey of the Hyena) and Hyènes (Hyenas). The second is a series of short films titled Tales of Ordinary People, including Le Franc (The Franc) and La petite vendeuse de soleil (The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun). Mambety died before completing his work.

Mambety's first trilogy centers around the themes of power and madness. Touki Bouki recounts the journey of two Senegalese youths, Mori and Anta, who dream of finding riches in Europe. The pair make comic attempts to steal money in order to pay for a trip to Paris. The characters' escapades are combined with dream sequences in which Mory and Anta throw money from a luxurious car, and wave to cheering crowds. While the rebels are portrayed affectionately, Mambety reveals that the Promised Land of Paris is an illusion. As Mory fantasizes about the happiness France will bring him, French visitors in a yacht offshore discuss their racist beliefs about the childishness of Africans. The film's images suggest that Mory and Anta's generation have been sacrificed; the horns Mory attaches to his motorcycle remind viewers of the cattle slaughtered at the beginning of the film. Mambety's compelling story is made even more fascinating by his editing strategy, which "subverts spacial, temporal, and graphic continuity: disjunctive editing, jump cuts, and calculated disparities between sound and image violate dominant patterns of representation within both Western and African cinema," writes Nwachuku Frank Ukadike.

Mambety's Hyenas, an adaptation of Swiss writer Friedich Dürrenmatt's play The Visit, delves into the theme of how the influence of Western materialism and neocolonial power has corrupted African societies. Linguère Ramatou, an African woman who is "richer than the World Bank," tempts the Senegalese town of Colobane with her abundant wealth. In a carnivalesque atmosphere reminiscent of an American amusement park, she persuades the town that she is the answer to their economic troubles with a spectacle of fireworks, firing ranges, fast rides, and luxurious prizes. She offers to share her wealth, provided that her former lover, Draman Drameh, be killed. Mambety comically portrays Draman Drameh's alarm when the townsmen start buying things from his shop that they cannot afford. Lingère Ramatou succeeds in buying the town's court, in addition to its soul. Mambety's political message is clear: neocolonial powers such as the World Bank dictate to African governments how to manage their funds, and people suffer devastating consequences.

Mambety's trilogy of shorts is a tribute to the courage of marginalized Africans who are in a state of continuous struggle. Le Franc appreciates the imagination of a poor musician while offering an incisive commentary on the devaluation of the African franc (CFA). La petite vendeuse de soleil is Mambety's most optimistic work. A courageous young girl, Sili, breaks into the male-dominated business of hawking newspapers, despite her physical handicap. She speaks in positive tones, hoping that one day the Senegalese government will draw nearer to people living in the street. Mambety does not romanticize her position, but creates what he calls "a hymn to street children." Sili's face is often illuminated by sunshine, suggesting that Mambety left the world with an optimistic vision of Senegal's future.

—Ellie Higgins