Hyenas

Following his extraordinary debut Touki Bouki (1973)—the first experimental feature in African cinema—Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety survived mainly as a stage and film actor, and naturally expectations for his second feature ran high. When Hyenas was released in 1992 I considered it a safer film, but on further reflection I find it more considered and mature than its predecessor, with ironies that may turn out to be even deadlier. It?s an African adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's famous Swiss play The Visit (also filmed, rather unsatisfactorily, by Bernhard Wicki with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn in the mid-60s): a wealthy, aging woman returns to the impoverished village she left many years before and offers a fortune to its people if they will murder a local shopkeeper who seduced, impregnated, and abandoned her when she was 16. At first the villagers disdainfully reject her offer, but they decide they're at least entitled to purchase the shopkeeper's goods on credit, and their taste for luxuries starts to grow—clearly a comic allegory about contemporary colonialism, consumerism, and their relation to each other. Diop Mambety shows an able hand in managing his talented cast and cuts quite a commanding figure himself when he appears in a pivotal small role.

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