Rebel With A Cause: Director Djibril Diop Mambéty
Djibril Diop Mambéty (January 1945 – July 23, 1998) was a technically savvy Senegalese film director and one the most unique of all African artists. 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.
While he has made very few films, only two features, he has gained an international reputation for the way he unites form and content to expand the possibilities for cinematic communication in Africa. Rather than the linear narrative and slow pacing, which is associated with many African films and which is seen as a means of transforming a lifestyle associated with the continent and the oral tradition into a different medium. From his earliest films, Mambety challenges established norms of cinematic communication as he develops a voice that will represent his unique point of view and provide one way of representing postcolonial Africa.
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 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 outmaneuvering a crass, bowlegged, overweight policeman. Although both 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 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.
Despite the success, Mambety did not produce another feature for almost twenty years. During this long absence, he was able to make only one: Parlons Grand-mére (Let’s talk, Grandmother), a short he made in while helping his friend the Burkinabe director Idrissa Ouedraogo with the making of Yaaba.