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Dürrenmatt's play The Visit is one of the best stories ever told about guilt
and honesty. Would it be ruined by being transferred to a village in Africa
by a visionary director whose main quality is to create images? That's what
I asked myself before watching Hyenas.
And I was surprised in the most positive way. Diop Mambéty hardly changed the plot but supplied it with wonderful images which can only be found in Africa. So why didn't he change the story? Because he didn't have to. The story of the old lady taking revenge on her home village in the most cruel way fits perfectly into the context Mambéty placed it. It seems as though the story had never been imagined to take place in Switzerland; Senegal absorbs it completely.
The choice of Ami Diakhate is maybe the most perfect ever made by any film or stage director, as regards the role of Dürrenmatt's old lady. She has the mark of death and bitterness on her, the condescension of the rich and the hatred of those who have been humiliated. The other actors are charming, also well-cast, though sometimes I felt they would have needed a little more directoral guidance. However, my untrained European eye was not expected too much of: in some Asian, Afroamerican or African movies (shame on me) it is very hard for me to tell the various characters apart, which was not the case in Hyenas.
A wonderful story, a wonderful film. A pity that I will probably never see it again.
A stunning adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's coldly brilliant play, The
Visit, HYENES (hyenas) actually improves on the story by transposing the
action to a Senegalese village. A fabulously wealthy old woman, who was born
in the village but run out in disgrace as pregnant youth, returns and
promises the villagers a fortune on one condition: that they kill the man
who ruined her, an aged man who is the town's popular, good-natured grocer.
By moving the story from Durrenmatt's European setting to a dirt-poor African village, all the tensions are heightened, and the director Mambety sets the huge issues in high relief against the desert backdrop: justice, betrayal, revenge, guilt, greed (or need?), loyalty, and charity are played out in a searing (and searingly beautiful) desert, filmed with the grace of Bergman and written with the wryness of Bunuel. There are no good guys. It's up to you if there are bad guys. Everyone is a predator.
Hyenes is a foreign film from Senegal adapted from a play, The Visit, by
Swiss playwright Friedrich Dirrenmatt. It is spoken in the local language
with English subtitles.
This film is surreal. It makes political statements and explains how a poor, failing village becomes prosperous by the greed of it's residents and the revenge of one of it's former community members.
Linguere Ramatou, played by Ami Diakhate, was once a young women who left her home village under less than honorable terms and has now become wealthy. She returns to her village to bestow a large sum of money so that the poor village can become a prosperous city. However, she seeks revenge upon her once seducer Dramaan, played by Mansour Diouf.
Dramaan had abandoned Ramatou when they were young forcing her to go to the city to engage in "the oldest profession." Now, Dramaan is an elder grocer granting good on credit to the unemployed villagers whom come to his store much to the displeasure of his wife and co-store keeper.
The villagers, learning that Ramatou is returning after many years to bestow money upon the village, appoints Dramaan the local mayor and instructs him to once again "woo" Ramatou so that she will make a large contribution to the village of Colobane.
What happens next is a surreal tale of how Dramaan fawns over his once love and her reactions to this lover from long ago.
The simple actions of Dramaan are often funny as well as the actions of the village's local officials. Ramatou is willing to provide the large endowment to the village on one condition. You need to see the movie to know that condition and how a "soul" is traded for the donation.
The village customs are interesting for Westerners whom may have little or no knowledge of some African customs. It is a little difficult to follow the fast movie English subtitles while listening to the dialogue in Senegalese. The film may need to be viewed more than once for the Westerner to fully comprehend the story and motivations of the principal players.
A once-prosperous Senegalese village has been falling further into
poverty year by year until the village's elders are reduced to selling
town possessions to pay debts. Linguère, a former resident and local
beauty, now very rich, returns to this, the village of her birth. The
elders hope that she will be a benefactor to the village. To encourage
her generosity, they appoint a local grocer, Dramaan, as mayor -- who
once courted her and will now try to persuade her to help.
This is an adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss-German satirical play "The Visit", which I am not familiar with, so I will have to judge the film on its own merits. Knowing nothing of Senegal, I love how they really used the village and surroundings and made it a crucial part of the film. The story is strong and funny in its own way, but I think the locale is a bigger selling point. I've never been anywhere in Africa, and certainly not Senegal... this made a strong visual impression on me.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
We were blessed with the presence of a Wolof language and culture guide
(Rama). This was great. ;) Whenever there was confusion (which there
was) we would turn to our expert and ask what on earth the people were
doing. It would be explained and we would continue with the film, being
enlightened. This added to the appreciation of the film.
Some highlights: The dancing was unique and quite extraordinary - our Rama witnessed such dancing when she was in Senegal.
The scene of Dramen Drameh driving the Peuguot convertible around the hunter round 'n round was quite artistic and profoundly touching. An interesting way to spend the last day of your life.
The hats - particularly the soldier hats. The yellow shoes were a nice touch too. It all added to the humor of the film making it light despite the darker undertones of this exploration of the human psyche.
The teacher was wise. He brought a balance and a perspective to the film, he was the prophetic voice of truth crying out in the desert. He and the doctor alone seemed to understand the deeper moral failings at work - the lure of material wealth. Dramen's soul came to represent the soul of the village, and when it died so did the soul of the village.
Hyenes, Mambety's avent-guard, surrealistic film captures the real heart and soul of the human social and economical blood thirst for money, when stopping to think about the different animal symbols in this film like the hyena, vulture, and yes even the monkey; you can't help feeling ashamed to be part of the big machine, we call progress. than again is that not what human nature, or the nature of animals is all about? Survival of the fittest. Mambety not only nails the human viciousness and easily influenced character on the head, but he slaps you in the face with our greed. A real plus to this movie is the musical language of Wolof. a must see movie and language, which cannot be matched.
The film has a pretty slow tempo but the story it tells has some great
meaning behind it. Ramatou represents the Western capitalist ideology
and the Senegalese village a cultural way of living. When the villagers
slowly rid themselves of their cultural values, they can be seen as
'selling out' to the western values, that which Ramatou represents with
Quite a lot of scenes seem pretty random to me in this film, and I did not understand what they represented. Also, the montage with the hyenas could probably have been cut down. One or two juxtapositions would be enough to make that connection strong, but too many clips of the hyenas in the wilderness just increased the distance of the film for me. Though the last scene did make me curiouser and curiouser, it was well done.
The acting felt pretty dry too. There didn't seem to be that much emotion behind many of the characters, and the speech was a little awkward. I know this might be a cultural way of speech but it felt too spaced out. For example Dramaan would wait 5-10 seconds before replying or saying something while the camera is on him.
Overall it is a pretty interesting film with many intriguing aspects but just dry.
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"Hyenas" is based on Friedrich Durrenmatt's play "Der Besuch der alten
Dame". In it, an old woman returns to her home town, which has fallen
into disrepair. She offers them a large sum if they will take revenge
on the man who caused her to lose her virginity.
Above all, it was interesting to see a Senegalese spin on the story. Obviously, we don't often hear much about Senegal. Of course, another aspect is the story's metaphors. There are two men who have been castrated and blinded. This is a metaphor for inter-war Germany: the reparations demanded by the Allies destroyed Germany economically, and then the German people didn't realize what the Nazi government was doing. Moreover, when the main character sees what everyone is trying to do to him, he goes to the authorities but can't get any help from them; this is like the Jews going to the authorities but to no avail. These are the sorts of stories to which we should all pay attention.
I don't understand the glowing reviews for this movie. I suspect the
previous reviewers don't actually know Durrenmat's actual work. What
makes Den Besuch Der Alten Dame, the original play, work is it's
humorous qualities. Durrenmatt believed that true tragedy no longer
resonated properly with audiences, so he created a black comedy of epic
proportions. It's grim, certainly, but it's also absurd and with a few
characters who are over the top just the right amount. In Hyenas, all
humor is gone. This movie attempts to be pure tragedy and, as
Durrenmatt believed such an attempt would, it fails.
The movie does have it's virtues. The actress playing Ramatou is wonderfully stoic, and it suits the character. Setting it in rural Africa was a brilliant idea as well. The movie as a whole though is dry, slow paced, and often times grating (the two castrated characters are the comic relief in the play, and in the movie they've been turned into whimpering, horrible things, for example).
It's too bad. The American adaptation from the 60s stays truer to the play than this movie does, not in the details, but in spirit and tone. See that one instead. For that matter, it also has a major symbolic motif from the play that's entirely lacking here. When the American film version of a European play is better than a french version of the same play, something has gone terribly wrong. I give this movie a three, for the few things it did get right.
Les Hyenes...the hyenas interested me because it takes place in
Senegal. I like foreign movies because it is a way of travelling. But
what a Senegal! The movie is laden with dystonic visual symbolism that
resembles that 1920s version of the Bride of Frankenstein (I bet I am
close believe it or not). In any case it is out of place in a poor 3rd
world country..it looks like you are mocking them.
The result makes them look like they all wear flour sack clothes and live in absolute destitution. I doubt any of the cast truly understood the deep symbolism of having gold colored shoes made in Upper Volta? The deep symbolism is of course that they are slowly being corrupted into killing a man for money. Wow! What an idea lets use gold to show greed and sagging dirty French flags to symbolize?? The evil of colonialism? Beats me-- Senegal gained it's independence from France in 1960. This movie is supposed to take place in the 1980s. Must be a leftist stab at colonialism.
Oh the story.... a woman seeks revenge for having been dumped in her youth and forced into prostitution because she got pregnant and her lover wanted to marry someone richer. A Danielle Steele novel line. She some how becomes richer than the World Bank (an institution on the tongues of every peasant in Senegal). This prostitute acquires hundreds of millions of dollars (how? in a country like Senegal?) As mentioned earlier the movie is laden with too much visual symbolism...everyone starts wearing gold colored things (get it?) and their hair starts to look like a hangman's rope etc... It is the kind of downer visual symbolism that creates unease and a desire to get out of where ever it is as quickly as you can.
Poor Senegal if these are the only images people associate with it.
I gave it 2 stars because frankly some of the visuals are unforgettable including a Citroen deux chevaux convertible (it is not a Peugeot as another writer says).
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