We Got It For Cheap: Senegalese cinema classic ‘Hyenas’

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“We are done for… we are really done for. I’m not just referring to Africans but to the entire human race,” director Djibril Diop Mambéty said in an interview with African Screen back in 1992. “We sold our soul too cheaply.”

That quote from when Mambéty’s Hyenas (screening for free on Tuesday at the Parkway), was released, captures quite well the funny fatalism of this mean Senegalese movie where you watch a whole bunch of people pick somebody’s bones. It is grim and implies something even more grim: There is perhaps a high enough price to sell your soul, just not the one we’ve all arrived at as fair market value.

In Hyenas, Linguere Ramatou (Ami Diakhate) returns to her village where decades earlier, the man who impregnated her, Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diouf)—“a bankrupt grocer in a bankrupt town” as he describes himself—denied it and had two other men lie and claim that they had sex with her too, ruining her reputation. Now, she’s back, after 30 years, traveling the world, and wealthy—“richer than the World Bank,” an oft-quoted line from the movie goes—and tells her resource-strapped village of Colobane in Dakar that if they agree to kill Drameh, avenging what he did to her, they get all her money. 

Baltimoreans in particular might find something familiar in this story of a town rendered poor by outside forces and as a result especially susceptible to corruption and its leaders, who put all of their faith in someone lording millions over them and suggesting they can get that cash and fix their town if they compromise their morals. It’s sort of like if, say, Kevin Plank demanded we kill some Georgetown Prep prick who did him wrong years ago in order to get his millions which, well, maybe that would be preferable to taking the city’s money through scams such as TIFs and fake-ass “Opportunity Zones” but I digress, and you get the point: The blood money in Hyenas is not so much washed or transferred by giving, it’s just getting bloodier. The “right” thing to do (improve one’s town and punish someone who “deserves” to be punished all at once!) is absolutely the wrong thing to do.

In the book Africa Shoots Back, author Melissa Thackway says Ramatou “makes the village an offer it can’t refuse,” referencing The Godfather, which gives you a sense of how you might want to consider the Ramatou character and places Hyenas among cinematic capitalist critiques without easy answers and obvious themes. At one point in Hyenas, Ramatou declares, “Life made me a whore, now I’ll make the whole world a brothel,” and that line from Hustlers, “This whole country is a strip club,” came to mind (the movie it is most like for me, though, is 1974’s Amazing Grace, a community-facing comedy about corruption, shot in West Baltimore). 

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody recently quipped on Twitter, “What about movies that are informally innovative?” and yes, that is a very good tweet indeed that also describes Hyenas’ delirious style: patient camera moves (when the camera moves at all), oblique costume design (the bright colors and outre style of high fashion invokes The Prisoner or a Moebius comic book—something nearly science fiction), and a propensity to go surreal (a carnival is both an event and a setpiece-as-metaphor about the fast and cheap thrill you get when you sell out). And Mambéty often interrupts a scene or transitions between scenes with images of animals (hyenas circling, elephants trudging), an elusive kind of cutting that makes the cruel and predatory elements of the movie loud and clear, and makes it mythic at the same time.

Hyenas’ plot machinations—adapting Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play The Visit—make it all just feel inevitable, which I guess means Hyenas is a tragedy but it’s scope is grander and systemic and its humor, deadpan. When Drameh asks for protection from the police because there’s now a huge bounty on his head, he notices the cop he’s talking to has already bought in (he has a nice new gold tooth). The mayor hears Drameh out about his safety concerns while stroking a model of the new City Hall, to be built when this money comes through, for sure. 

Again, Baltimore comes to mind: There was a meeting just this week to replace federally charged delegate Cheryl Glenn, resulted in the appointing of Chanel Branch, 45th District committee chair and daughter of House majority whip Talmadge Branch in a tie-breaking vote in which Branch was able to vote for herself. She won three votes to two votes. Now that is a scene whose absurdity perhaps even Hyenas couldn’t have conjured up.

Movie Listings

The Charles Theatre, 1711 North Charles Street, (410) 727-3464,

A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, US, 2019). Sat–Thurs: 4:00

Harriet (Kasi Lemmons, US, 2019). Sat: 3:55, 9:35; Sun: 3:55; Mon: 7:00; Tues–Wed: 3:55, 9:35; Thurs: 3:45

JoJo Rabbit (Taika Waititi, US, 2019). Sat: 1:30, 7:00; Sun: 1:40, 7:00; Mon: 1:00; Tues–Wed: 1:00, 7:00; Thurs: 1:00, 6:45

Just Mercy (Destin Daniel Cretton, US, 2019). Fri–Sat: 12:45, 3:45, 6:45, 9:35; Sun–Mon: 12:45, 3:45, 6:45; Tues–Thurs: 12:45, 3:45, 6:45, 9:35

Little Women (Greta Gerwig, US, 2019). Sat: 12:50, 3:45, 6:40, 9:30; Sun–Mon: 12:50, 3:45, 6:40; Tues–Thurs: 12:50, 3:45, 6:40, 9:30

Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2019). Sat–Sun: 12:55, 3:50, 6:40, 9:35; Mon: 12:55, 3:50; Tues–Wed: 12:55, 3:50, 6:40, 9:35; Thurs: 12:55, 3:50.

Uncut Gems (Benny & Josh Safdie, US, 2019). Sat: 12:45, 6:50, 9:35; Sun–Mon: 12:45, 6:50; Tues–Wed: 12:45, 6:50, 9:35; Thurs: 12:45, 9:35.

Revival: Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, US, 1939). Sat: 11:30 a.m.; Mon: 7:00; Thurs: 9:00

Creative Alliance, 3134 Eastern Avenue, (410) 276-1651,

Teach Us All (Sonia Lowman, US, 2017). Sun: 11:00 a.m.

Enoch Pratt Free Library

Always In Season (Jacqueline Olive, US, 2019). Thurs: 6:00, Roland Park Branch

Hairspray (Adam Shankman, US, 2007). Thurs: 3:00, Reisterstown Road Branch

The Intruder (Deon Taylor, US, 2019). Sat: 2:00, Southeast Anchor Library

Selma (Ava DuVernay, US, 2014). Sat: 1:00, Reisterstown Road Branch

The Parkway Theatre, 5 West North Avenue, (410) 752-8083,

1917 (Sam Mendes, US, 2019). Sat: 12:45, 4:15, 6:45, 9:30. Sun: 12:45, 4:15, 6:45; Mon–Wed: 6:45, 9:30

Dolittle (Stephen Gaghan, US, 2020). Sat: 1:00, 4:00, 7:00, 9:15; Sun: 1:00, 4:00, 7:00; Mon: 7:00, 9:15; Tues: 7:00, 9:30; Wed–Thurs: 7:00, 9:15

Fantastic Fungi (Louie Schwartzberg, US, 2019). Sat: 1:15, 3:45; Sun: 4:30, 7:00; Mon: 9:45; Tues: 9:15; Wed: 6:45; Thurs: 9:45

Hyenas (Djibril Diop Mambéty, Senegal, 1992). Tues: 7:00 (free screening)

Invisible Life (Karim Aïnouz, Portugal, 2019). Sat: 6:30; Sun: 1:15; Mon: 6:45; Thurs: 6:45

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, US 2019). Sat: 9:30; Wed: 9:00

The Senator Theatre, 5904 York Road, (410) 323-4424,

1917 (Sam Mendes, US, 2019). Sat: 12:50, 3:50, 6:50, 9:45; Sun–Mon: 12:50, 3:50, 6:50; Tues–Thurs: 12:50, 3:50, 6:50, 9:45

Bombshell (Jay Roach, US, 2019). Sat: 4:00, 9:45; Sun–Mon: 4:00; Tues–Thurs: 4:00, 9:45

Ford v Ferrari (James Mangold, US, 2019). Sat–Tues: 12:30, 6:30; Wed: 12:30; Thurs: 12:30, 6:30

Knives Out (Rian Johnson, US, 2019). Sat: 12:40, 3:40, 6:35, 9:35; Sun–Mon: 12:40, 3:40, 6:35; Tues–Thurs: 12:40, 3:40, 6:35, 9:35

Revival: The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, US, 1987). Wed: 7:30

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise Of Skywalker (JJ Abrams, US, 2019). Sat: 12:35, 3:35, 6:40, 9:40; Sun–Mon: 12:35, 3:35, 6:40; Tues–Thurs: 12:35, 3:35, 6:40, 9:40

Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Hyenas screens at the Parkway on Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. for free as part of the World Cinema Cafe series. The series continues on Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. with a free screening of Kathryn Fasegha’s 2 Weeks In Lagos.

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