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
"Timbuktu" (2014 release from Mauritania; 99 min.) brings the story (fictional, by influenced by real events) of how the Mali town copes with the 'liberation' by jihadis. As the movie opens, we see the jihadis having a shooting practice by destroying the local wood statutes. The jihadis issue all kinds of rules ("smoking is forbidden! music is forbidden!"), much to the irritation of the local Mali population. We get to know one local family in particular, a husband and wife with their 12 yr. old daughter. They live a bit outside of the city center where the desert takes over, going about their daily business as best as possible. Then one day, one of the husband's cow accidentally destroys the fishing nets of the fisherman, who promptly kills the cow. The husband decides that he cannot tolerate this. To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: first, it is a small miracle that a movie like "Timbuktu" could even have been made. Writer-director Abderrahmane Sissako shot the movie in Mauritania, which subs for Mali, but let's not kid ourselves. Mauritania is an "Islamic Republic", so it was no easy feat to shoot there either. Second, Sissako demonstrates again and again how much the local population resends the jihadis for uprooting their lives. There are several scenes in which a local man pleads with the jihadis ("where is forgiveness? where is leniency?"), to no avail of course. Playing soccer will cost you 20 leashes. Playing music comes at 40 lashes. Being in the room with someone from the opposite sex is another 40 lashes, and on and on. The fact that the neither side can understand the other (they speak Tamasheq in Timbuktu, the jihadis mostly speak Arabian, some also speak French or English) only makes the entire situation even more absurd. Second, while there are some shocking scenes in the movie, overall this is not a violent or graphic film. Almost on the contrary, in that the movie's editing and photography is done in such a way that it induces a false sense of peace and security. The photography in particular is pure eye-candy. Third, I have no idea where Sissako found these performers, but there are some wonderful performances, in particular from the wife and the 12 yr. old daughter. Bottom line: there is a good reason why this film is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar, as it is a deeply moving film that will stay with you long after you have seen it.
The movie finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I went to see it right away. The matinée screening where I saw this at today was attended okay but not great, although I'm hoping that the bitter cold weather is a factor for that. If you like a top-notch foreign film that provides a glimpse of what real life under jihad is like, you cannot go wrong with this. "Timbuktu" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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