Review of 'Timbuktu'

timbuctu.jpg Timbuktu, a town in the Malian Sahara that was under occupation by Jihadists only a few years ago. The populace are continually reminded to refrain from music, for woman to dress “respectfully”, and whatever else they can think of. For the most part these diktats seem arbitrary, childish and ridiculous with people grudgingly following them or even challenging them. The local “insane” woman shows us what was possible before they arrived as she freely sings and dresses as she likes, flaunting the dictates of the oppressors. In one scene the Jihadists are searching the town for where some musicians entertain themselves with song in a house which the Jihadists then break into, sending the merrymakers running…This is a common theme running throughout: The class between the surreal and often humorous strictures of the Jihadists that seem to be largely treated with disdain or even ignored but then the dramatic events when the Jihadists arbitrarily decide to act on any amount of dissent.

Living in a tent outside of the town in the sand dunes we are introduced to a small family of Tuareg (nomads) who go about their lives. Their boy tends a small herd of cows. When the herd destroys the net of a local fisherman there are disastrous consequences for the family as the father seeks his revenge…The Jihadists are strict. It is in this that they act as imposers of law and order both in what they interpret from their religious zealotry but also what we would see in any civil society.

Wonderfully shot in Mauritania, this tells the somewhat melancholy story of the occupation of Timbuktu, a story particularly poignant to me as I once visited this sleepy, peaceful community on the edge of the desert, a city of tremendous historical and cultural importance to the region. As many as four of five languages are used in the film (I saw it with English subtitles) showing the cultural diversity of the people here.

This film is episodic in nature as we are taken from scene to scene. Often these are snippets to give us a flavour of what life was like in these troubling times. Despite the short running time often the pace is measured and considered with very little action on the screen, even a brutal personal attack between two men is followed by a several minutes of the camera stationary as it simply shows the victor walking away from the scene. Emotionally powerful and poignant.

The professional actors and local people in the film perform their roles with great conviction. We are drawn into this oddly peaceful but periodically violent environment.

An amazing film and one that you cannot fail to walk away from unmoved. It is not necessarily a film with any particular message but it does make you feel for the people involved in this modern tragedy.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2015-05-11

Directed by: Sissako Abderrahmane

Studio: Les Films du Worso

Year: 2014

Length: 97 minutes

Genre: Melodrama