Saturday, July 29, 2017


Timbuktu; drama, Mauritania / France, 2014; D: Abderrahmane Sissako, S: Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino, Toulou Kiki, Layla Walet Mohamed, Kettly Noel, Hichem Yacoubi

In 2012, Islamist Jihadists conquer Timbuktu and impose a theocracy: due to Sharia law, women are suppose to wear scarfs and gloves; football, music and smoking are forbidden. People who disobey are punished by lashes or, in extreme cases, stoning to death. Kidane, a cattle herder, lives a peaceful life with his wife and their 12-year daughter Toya. However, one day, a crying boy, Issan, tells him how fisherman Amadou killed his beloved cow GPS because it accidentally got stuck in his fishing net in the lake. An angry Kidane confronts and accidentally shoots Amadou. Kidane is brought to trial and sentenced to death. His wife tries to prevent this and thus they are both shot and killed.

A quiet, meditative, minimalist film, "Timbuktu" found its way to widespread critical recognition due to its honest tone and emotional characters the viewers can identify with: even though its story speaks about the Islamist occupation of Timbuktu in 2012, this is also a 'slice-of-life' movie that depicts the customs, mentality and philosophy of the daily life of its people. Even though a Muslim himself, director Abderrahmane Sissako crafted a rejecting picture of Islamist fundamentalism and its negative effects through theocracy: at times, "Timbuktu" seems almost like a local version of "Idiocracy" insofar that it shows how backward people impose their will on everyone: in one scene, a Jihadi kidnapped a girl and married her by force, and when the girl's mother comes to complain, the Jihadi leader just brushes it off; in another, kids play "invisible" football on the field because the ball is forbidden; the Jihadis stage a video, but during recording the lighting malfunctions. Sissako shows violence, but unlike many other African directors, he does so with measure: the murder of a cow, for instance, is shown with emotion, with lingering shots of its legs faltering, showing sympathy for the creature, while the stoning of a couple is reduced to only three seconds. Did the fisherman kill the cow due to negative effects of the Jihadis who introduced violence as means of solving everything? In a time where so many directors just show violence explicitly, a director who does it subtly is something worth complimenting. The storyline is episodic and long at times, yet its center was nicely found in cattle herder Kidane, who confronts the fisherman and tries to do the right thing. Another plus point are the aesthetic images of the old city of Timbuktu that give the movie another layer and speak about some ancient traditions (and emotions) that last even in modern times.


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