In Mali, a fisherman and cow's death leads to harrowing and barbaric tragedy under a radical occupation. Info
Timbuktu, directed by Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, offers a harrowing glimpse into the daily lives of people living in Timbuktu when the West African city was occupied by the radical jihadist group Ansar Dine in 2012. The film closely follows a small family, one of the few who refused to leave their home, living outside the city. They're eventually forced to confront the invaders when a boy they take care of makes a mistake, and one of their cattle is killed by a fisherman. Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino) accidently kills the fisherman in the dispute, and is sentenced to death under Ansar Dine's radical interpretation of Sharia law.
While Kidane's fate is all but sealed, Timbuktu includes additional scenes of suppression throughout the city, as people are arrested and lashed for playing music, participating in sports, or having sex outside of marriage. These scenes are expertly woven together to give a full sense of a city and its people in peril doing what they can to thrive and endure, as the population continues to sing, and teenagers play soccer without a ball. The punishments that follow these beautiful moments of defiance, including a public stoning, are gruesome in their stark and brutal portrayal.
The film also lingers on the jihadists secretly breaking their own rules, as they chat about soccer history and smoke cigarettes. Much of the dialogue in the film is repeated, sometimes multiple times, as the characters jump between the five languages present in the film. The audience is often left to wait for translation alongside the protagonist. Timbuktu is a beautiful, sad film, that according to the director, was intended to be a documentary. Unfortunately, the jihadists Sissako portrays still terrify the population he intended to document. —Reid Kurkerewicz