TOUKI-BOUKI (Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1973)

The following is one of the entries from my list of the 100 greatest films (through 2006) from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

Shimmering in heat waves, a wide-angle shot shows a boy mounted on a zebu leading a herd of oxen towards the camera. Theirs is a single destination that therefore applies, at least metaphorically, to both beasts and boy: the slaughterhouse. What follows is graphic and gory—stuff so discombobulating (for us, in our safety) that we think: No child should be part of this. But no matter how young he is, this village child, Mory, must do what he can to survive. Djibril Diop Mambéty’s The Hyena’s Journey has astonishingly begun.
     The next shot is point-of-view; the stylistic rupture corresponds to the fact that time has passed. Mory is a young man now, and he is riding into Dakar—the city—on his motorbike. How do we know this is Mory, only grown up? The horns of a zebu adorn the handles of his motorbike. This is how Mambéty’s masterpiece proceeds: elliptically, expressively.
     Mory and college student Anta dream of fleeing to Paris, and much of the film records the couple’s attempts to get the money to do so however they can. (Mory, the hyena, still pursues survival—mental, now, as well as material.) French singing, some of it by U.S. expatriate Josephine Baker, dots the soundtrack. The confusion of Western and French icons and emblems reminds us that Senegal had been a French colony. But the point is, the Senegalese need no reminding. Mambéty’s film is about the people’s confusion of cultural and national identity—a legacy of Senegal’s colonization. The dream to escape to Paris reveals the need for a resolution to this confusion.
     References to French films—Franju’s Blood of the Beasts (1949), Godard’s Pierrot le fou (1965), Truffaut’s L’enfant sauvage (1969) among them—suggest the ironical allure of more confusion as some sort of resolution.


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