This past Friday, I found myself sitting alone with a member of Bates’ Filmboard as we watched the Senegalese film Hyènes (Hyenas). Though the original film (Frontières) was held up by last week’s snowstorm, I was excited that the Filmboard was able to find another Senegalese film in Ladd Library’s Digital Media collection. I settled into the empty theatre and prepared for the 113 minute drama that was about to unfold. Warning: this review will include spoilers!
In the destitute village of Colobane, Senegal, Dramaan Drameh owns a market and cantina where his friends and other male townspeople gather to socialize and purchase necessities. Drameh is told in the beginning of the film that he will be recommended to be mayor in the upcoming election, however, the arrival of his ex-lover disrupts all plans.
Linguère Ramatou, former Colobane resident and jaded ex-girlfriend of Drameh, parades into town with a caravan of caretakers and her wealth on clear display. Though the origin of her wealth is never explained, audience members learn that she was in a dangerous plane crash and lost a leg and an arm. While initially seeming excited to be home, Ramatou soon reveals her reason for returning: she will donate “one hundred thousand millions” to the town if someone kills Drameh.
Drameh is shocked by this request and immediately starts to fear the worst. Townspeople appear offended by the assumption that their loyalty can be bought, however, one by one they all appear in Drameh’s cantina with new shoes and purchase expensive products on credit. Once Ramatou materializes on her promise of riches, townspeople are chomping at the bit and ready to kill Drameh. In the final scene, Drameh and the male townspeople meet in the desert to conduct the trial to determine Drameh’s guilt in abandoning of Ramatou; all the men agree that he is guilty and the film ends with Drameh’s corpse sitting in the center of the desert.
Hyènes is an adapted film production of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play The Visit; though the story has been remade several times, director Djibril Mambéty highlights the depth of the play in his version. This film could have been a simple take on how power and wealth corrupt moral judgment, but it has two deeper layers. One interpretation is that the characters in the film represent the actors and interests in neocolonialist Africa; a wealthy “savior” bestows gifts at the cost of human dignity and manipulates the local population to do her bidding. Another interpretation of the film relates to the gender limits explicitly and implicitly present in the story. Ramatou symbolically has no leg to stand on or hand to act with, so she must enlist the men around her to accomplish her wishes. Further, no female townsperson is involved in the trial and murder of Drameh; only men possess the power to try and convict criminals and only men are shown in positions of authority. Mambéty powerfully demonstrates these two power dynamics in his version of the story.
Presented in Wolof with English subtitles, Hyènes underlined the universal challenges and temptations of the human condition and ever-current geo-politics. As I sat in the near-empty theatre, I was surprised by the lack of other students and community members interested in seeing the story play out; hopefully future Filmboard showings will draw more Batesies out from their rooms and into the critical thinking space of Olin 104.