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Biography of Djibril DIOP MAMBéTY

Senegal > Arts : Djibril DIOP MAMBéTY

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Biography :

Djibril Diop Mambéty (January 1945 - July 23, 1998) was a Senegalese film director, actor, orator, composer and poet.

Though he made only a small number of films, they received international acclaim for their original and experimental cinematic technique and non-linear, unconventional narrative style. Born to a Muslim family near Dakar, Senegal's capital city, Mambety was Wolof. He died in 1998 while being treated for lung cancer in a Paris hospital.

Djibril Mambéty Diop was born January 23,1945 in Colobane  (Sénégal).
Mambety had studied drama in Senegal, and he worked as a stage actor at the Daniel Sorano National Theater in Dakar after graduation. But he was expelled from Sorano a short time later--undisciplined, they said--and the experience goaded him to pursue his love affair with cinema. Mambety remembered his expulsion as a kind of challenge: he refused to give up, and immediately set about raising money to make films. Although he had no formal training in cinema, the twenty-four-year-old directed and produced his first film short, Contras' City"A city of contrasts" in 1969. Experimental and satirical, the film lampooned the freewheeling cosmopolitanism of Dakar's colonial architecture, in which, as Mambety noted, "we had a Sudanese-style cathedral, a chamber of commerce building looking like a theater, while the theater resembled a block of council flats." Mambety's next short, Badou Boy, was released in 1970. The film explored contemporary Senegalese society by pitting an individual against the state: a sly young hooligan, said to be modeled on Mambety himself, spends the film outmaneuvering a crass, bowlegged, overweight policeman. Although both films were box-office disasters, they were critically acclaimed--Badou Boy won the Silver Tanit at the 1970 Carthage film Festival in Tunisia.

In 1973, Mambety released his masterpiece, Touki Bouki the hyena's journey a tour de force of narrative and technical sophistication. It combined the styles of Mambety's first two films, marrying montage and narrative, challenging audiences with its unconventional collage of political and sexual images, enticing them with its story and its use of color and music. Touki Bouki, Mambety's first feature-length film, was a critical smash: it won the Special Jury Award at the Moscow film Festival and the International Critics Award at Cannes. It was unlike anything in the history of African cinema; today, film scholars around the world agree that Touki Bouki is a classic. Its central themes are wealth, youth, and delusion: Mory and Anta are a fashionable young Senegalese couple on the run--from their families, their home, and their future--dreaming of Europe. The story revolves around the couple's brash and illegal attempts to get enough cash for boat tickets to Paris. But it is less the narrative than its mode of presentation that carries the burden of meaning. Mambety mixes elements of several storytelling techniques to create phantasmal images of postcolonial African society's myriad failings. His presentation invites the viewer to understand these images in dialectical terms.

Despite the film's success, Mambety did not produce another feature for almost twenty years. During this long absence, he was able to make only one film: Parlons Grand-mére Let's talk, Grandmother a short he made in 1989 while helping his friend, the Burkinabe director Idrissa Ouedraogo, with the filming of Yaaba.

In 1992, Mambety returned to the limelight with an ambitious new film, Hyènes "Hyenas" It was an adaption of the Swiss-German writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt's satirical play The Visit. Mambety's authorial voice is strong and clear in Hyènes; as one critic observed, the uniqueness of the direction throughout the film "undoubtedly stems in part from his own magisterial sense of presence."

Hyènes was conceived as the second installment, following on Touki Bouki, of a trilogy on power and insanity. The grand theme, once again, is human greed. As Mambety himself observed, the story shows how neocolonial relations in Africa are "betraying the hopes of independence for the false promises of Western materialism," and how Africans have been corrupted by that materialism. We follow Linguère Ramatou, a wealthy woman who returns from abroad to the desolate village of Colobane, her birthplace--and Mambety's, as well. Many years before, she had been seduced by a young man, impregnated, and abandoned for a wealthier wife; she was then mercilessly ostracized by her neighbors. Now "as rich as the World Bank," Linguère offers lavish gifts and huge sums of money to the villagers--in exchange for the death of her onetime lover. They accept the deal, and Mambety makes it easy for us to see why. The Colobane of Hyènes is a sad reminder of the economic disintegration, corruption, and consumer culture that has enveloped Africa since the 1960s. "We have sold our souls too cheaply," Mambety once said. "We are done for if we have traded our souls for money. That is why childhood is my last refuge." But what remains of Colobane is not the magical childhood Mambety pines for. In the last shot of Hyènes, a bulldozer erases the village from the face of the earth. A Senegalese viewer, one writer has claimed, "would know what rose in its place: the real-life Colobane, a notorious thieves' market on the edge of Dakar."

Hyènes confirmed Mambety's stature as one of Africa's greatest auteurs, and it seemed to herald the beginning of a new and productive phase in his career. After unleashing this pessimistic vision of humanity and society, Mambety began a trilogy of short films about "little people," whom he called "the only true, consistent, unaffected people in the world, for whom every morning brings the same question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves." Le franc "(1994), a comedy about a poor musician who wins the lottery, exposes the havoc wrought upon the people of Senegal by France's devaluation of the West African Franc (CFA). Mambety was editing the second film in the trilogy, La petite vendeuse de Soleil "The Little Girl Who Sold The Sun" when he died.

Last update : 06/25/2007

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