‘Timbuktu’ poetically addresses fundamentalism 

click to enlarge Ibrahim Ahmed plays a Mali man who faces abuse in “Timbuktu.” - COURTESY COHEN MEDIA GROUP
  • Ibrahim Ahmed plays a Mali man who faces abuse in “Timbuktu.”
Mauritania-born filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako addresses religious extremism and its vicious attack on diversity and expression in “Timbuktu,” a strikingly humanist drama set in 2012 Mali.

Like Sissako’s “Bamako,” the film contains stories that reflect injustices outsiders have inflicted on African communities. In multi-ethnic Timbuktu, jihadist occupiers who require translators to communicate with locals are destroying cultural artifacts and patrolling the city with guns and megaphones. Smoking, music and soccer are banned, they announce. Women must wear socks and gloves.

Characters affected by the cruel, ignorant and sometimes absurd crackdown include Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), a peaceful, tent-dwelling Muslim herdsman who lives in the desert with his wife and daughter. After Kidane is arrested in the accidental death of a fisherman with whom he has feuded, the family experiences the dark realities of the fundamentalist interpretation of sharia law.

In other scenarios, many involving women, a fishmonger is arrested for not covering her hands, a singer receives 40 lashes, and an unmarried couple is stoned to death.

Abdelkrim (Abel Jafri), meanwhile, the chief jihadist character, urges Kidane’s wife (Toulou Kiki) to cover her head and oversees travesties of justice. Sissako presents such hardliners humanely as men who have allowed ideology to seize their capacity for compassion.

A visual poet, Sisskio includes little violence in the film. Instead, he depicts tragedy with exquisite imagery. The fisherman’s death, which unfolds in a sunset-colored wide shot, is particularly memorable.

While a less adept filmmaker might undermine dramatic impact with this approach, Sissako has created a graceful, thoughtful, stirringly sad, and beautifully cinematic picture of the consequences of religious intolerance.

An emerging star in African and world cinema, he is a talent every film lover should note.



three and a half stars

Starring Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri

Written by Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall

Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

Not rated

Running time 1 hour, 37 minutes

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Anita Katz

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