WHO is he?

Senegalese filmmaker, writer, poet and actor, considered to be one of the finest and most important African filmmakers of all time. Mambéty’s filmography is lean, containing only three feature length films and four short films made during a 30-year period. Mambéty, who died of cancer at the age of 53, is known for his flamboyant and mystical way of talking, which, of course, finds its way into his films as well.

WHAT are his films about?

Themes

Mambéty’s films centre on postcolonial life in Senegal, especially in Dakar, which is the subject of his first short film Contras City (1968). In the film, the city is seen as a bundle of contradictions between the high and the low, the archaic and the modern, the simple and the grandiose and the West and the native. His films of the 90s deal with the economic dependence of African countries on the World Bank and the IMF, whose policies they are very critical of.

Style

The early works of Mambéty are characterised by a mockumentary aesthetic, where grainy, documentary shots of urban life on the streets are contravened by an upbeat, non-diegetic score and a sarcastic tone, heady editing patterns and a generally frenzied rhythm. These films are close in spirit to the first films of Luis Buñuel, who, too, used irony as a powerful tool to expose the absurdities of certain discourses and also to the American underground cinema of the 60 and 70s.

WHY is he of interest?

Arguably the most iconoclastic of African films known outside the continent, Mambéty’s cinema rejects both mainstream conventions built on Western narrative norms as well as the conveniences of African social cinema, where cinematic innovation is often sacrificed for socio-political criticism. In fact, Mambéty’s uncompromised radicalism occupies a position right alongside the modernist avant-garde filmmaking of Europe during the same period.

WHERE to discover him?

Djibril Diop Mambéty’s first feature length work, Touki Bouki (1973) is, like several movies from Hollywood and the Nouvelle Vague, about a couple on the run. The film is a study in contrast and captures with humour and verve the cultural schizophrenia of post-colonial Dakar. Mambéty’s episodic movie employs an array of disorienting techniques that set the movie in stark contrast to the realist narrative mode of contemporary African cinema.