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Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena (Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1973)


A celebrated early feature from Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty, Touki Bouki: The Journey of the Hyena offers a comic fantasy that addresses the country’s dueling histories. The main characters in this complex, rambling political allegory are Mory, a young cowherd, and his girlfriend Anta, a student, who hope to migrate together from the slums of Dakar to Paris (“the gateway to paradise”). The loose narrative involves their various schemes to realize this dream and offers ample opportunity to study their self-centered immorality. As the title implies, Mory is a thankless scavenger. Over the course of the film, he and his girlfriend steal food from a local woman, attempt to rob a charity event and have no qualms about exploiting foreign relief workers. After flagrantly cheating at a three card monte game, Mory still calls those who accused him of stealing “assholes.” One assumes that this extended hustle is intended to be read as a crisis of African identity, as a people who are sandwiched between tribalism and French colonialism find that the road to modernity comes at the cost of their ethics. Mory lives in a gray zone, acutely aware of his native beliefs, but willing to transcend them for personal gain. This is perhaps best exemplified by a scene in which he comes across a bundle of gris-gris and loots from it, against his girlfriend’s protestations, but maybe finds its most potent visual signifier in Mory’s motorcycle, which has a steer’s skull mounted on its handlebars.


Touki Bouki is experimental, especially by the standards of African films of its era. Languorous shots of the African landscape and naturalistic plotting are replaced here with jump cuts and fantasies of life in Paris. The influence of the French New Wave (particularly the pre-’68 work of Godard) is apparent, both in narrative construction and the editing rhythms. Non sequitir scenes of animal slaughter and street life pepper the film, almost at random, lending additional energy.  The soundtrack gives equal play time to European pop songs (especially a single, grating Josephine Baker tune) and African drums, suggesting the tensions that weigh upon the characters. These tensions reach what seems to be a breaking point after Mory and Anta finally pull one of their schemes off, and become nouveau riche snobs. Though the film’s narrative momentum wavers at this juncture, its political intentions become more overt than ever, ensuring few could miss Mambéty’s message. The final moments here, which simultaneously suggest a return to traditionalism and a new form of globalized alienation, offer open-ended ruminations on Senegal’s future role in the world.



Jeremy Heilman