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In the Ottoman province of Hijaz during World War I, a young Bedouin boy experiences a greatly hastened coming-of-age as he embarks on a perilous desert journey to guide a British officer to his secret destination.
Not far from the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, proud cattle herder Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed aka Pino) lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki), his daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed), and Issan (Mehdi Ag Mohamed), their twelve-year-old shepherd. In town, the people suffer, powerless, from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists determined to control their faith. Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned. The women have become shadows but resist with dignity. Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences. Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes abruptly. Written by
A remarkable study in repression set amidst stunning beauty.
"Let me say this loud and clear. There is a world of difference between terrorist acts and the Islamic Shari'a. Islam is not only a religion, but a way of life. And at its heart lie the sacred principles of tolerance and dialogue." King Hussein I
A popular cliché is to refer to "Timbuktu" as the farthest, out-of-it-all place on earth, like "You can go to Timbuktu for all I care." However, in writer/ director Abderrahmane Sissako's remarkable film, Timbuktu, the world rests in miniature in the sand dunes of gorgeous Mali, where a Bedouin family can languish in the shade of their tent while a small boy herds their cattle and nearby fishmongers ply their trade by a welcoming pond. It is a world seemingly removed from stress, a paradise.
In the cell-phone age, no one is too far away and paradise easily shattered, as the natives use their phones to coordinate their herds and their lives. So do the Muslim jihadists, who use their phones to control the natives, bending them to their will on such mundane matters as wearing gloves and playing music. In a way, the low-key policing by the jihadists employing Shari'a seems to contrast with the notorious ISIS, whose control extends to burning and beheading.
All is relatively tame until one Bedouin's pregnant cow is killed by a fishmonger, and the herder murders in revenge. The Long-distance wide-angle shot of the two men in a death struggle is remarkably beautiful and ominous, like David Lean's memorable Lawrence of Arabia scenes.
The local jihadist authority follows God's law in this case while it takes a woman into custody for not wearing gloves and carries out murderous punishment on musicians. This tranquil paradise slowly becomes a hotbed of repression while the director still shoots lovely scenes that belie the suppression already reaching into the lives that seemed so far removed.
Underneath the obvious meting out of "justice" is the subjugation of women, almost as if radical Muslim orthodoxy had this prejudice as its cornerstone. This film drives that oppression home as few others have done because it makes it a quiet but persistent issue in daily activity. The very peacefulness of the living in Mali and the sweet sparseness of the mise en scene could almost make us think the radicalism is acceptable. But when you see men buried in sand and rocks thrown at their heads, you know life in the sand in not romantic.
Timbuktu is rated PG-13, a triumph in good taste as murder and subjugation are the dominant activities. A film that allows young persons to see the world's injustices through a beautiful lens is a film worth sharing in the hope of removing radical Islamists from paradise. Let them have their virgins and soon.
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