Synopsis: Not far from the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, 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 had been spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu. But their destiny changes abruptly in this stunningly rendered film from a master of world cinema.
Release Date: January 30, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Everyone has heard of the city of Timbuktu, but many people don’t know where it really is. Well, Timbuktu is located in the African nation of Mali which can be found just south of the Sahara Desert on the western side of the continent. Timbuktu is also the setting of the country of Mauritania’s first entry into the Best Foreign Language category for the Academy Awards, a film that is called, appropriately enough, Timbuktu.
Timbuktu takes place during the city’s 2012 occupation by Jihadist extremists. The Jihadists have banned every form of enjoyment or entertainment imaginable, everything from smoking and music to long pants and soccer. A cattle farmer named Kidane (played by Malian theater actor and musician Ibrahim Ahmed aka Pino) lives with his family outside the city and, therefore, is generally left alone by the Jihadists. When Kidane’s prize cow, a beloved beast named GPS, runs into a river net owned by a fisherman named Amadou (played by real-lilfe fisherman Amadou Haidara), Amadou kills the cow. Kidane confronts Amadou, and the scuffle leads to Amadou’s death. The under-the-radar Kidane soon finds himself at the mercy of the harsh Sharia law of the Jihadists, a law which demands a blood payment of 40 heads of cattle to Amadou’s family to atone for the killing. Kidane only owns seven cows, so he is given the death penalty. Kidane and his family struggle to figure out a way to save his life without risking further repercussions from the Jihadists.
Director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness) has made an important film in Timbuktu. The film is based on the real-life Islamic occupation of Northern Mali, and Sissako seems to have put a lot of truth into the film. The simple drama surrounding Kidane and his plight is the running main plot of the film, but there are a number of extraneous scenes that, at first glance, seem to be thrown into the film with the sole intent to shock the viewer; there’s a graphic depiction of the stoning of an adulterous couple, and another woman receives 40 lashes for singing in public. It’s only when these segments are placed into the context of a few humorous and lighthearted scenes – a group of youngsters playing soccer without a ball, or one of the Jihadists making a video denouncing his old life as a rap musician – that the viewer understands that these are the things that the occupied citizens of Timbuktu were forced to deal with on a daily basis. Sissako’s decision to use real villagers instead of professional actors in many roles only adds to the authenticity of the film.
There is one big issue with Timbuktu: it’s painfully slow. There are a handful of compelling scenes – even haunting scenes – but they are few and far between, and seem to have little to do with the actual plot of the movie. In addition, the main story is driven by a lot of dialogue that is delivered in about a half dozen different languages. Timbuktu is a powerful film, and it looks beautiful, but it’s definitely one for the more patient viewers.
Contrary to what may seem obvious, Timbuktu was not shot in the city of Timbuktu, but in Oualata in the film’s native country of Mauritania. Mauritania borders Mali, so the country is able to do a convincing Timbuktu impression. Cinematographer Sofian El Fani (Blue is the Warmest Color) captures all of the natural beauty of the setting, allowing the surroundings to stand in stark contrast to the intolerance and oppression that is at the root of the film; El Fani shows the prettiness that exists within the ugliness, and vice-versa. Much of the film is captured in wide, sweeping shots that let the viewer soak up the entire landscape. Conversely, in some places, particularly the more brutal scenes, El Fani gets unflinchingly-yet-sensitively close to the action, and these shots help the audience to fully grasp the horrors that are being witnessed. Despite its unsettling subject matter, Timbuktu is not a particularly hard film to watch – it’s actually very striking in its beauty – and much of that can be credited to the photography of Sofian El Fani.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Adberrahmane Sissako
- Screenwriter(s): Abderrahmane SissakoKessen Tall
- Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed (Kidane)Abel Jafri (Abdelkerim)Toulou Kiki (Satima) Layla Walet Mohamed (Toya)Mehdi A.G. Mohamed (Isaan)
- Editor(s): Nadia Ben Rachid
- Cinematographer: Sofian El Fani
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Amin Bouhafa
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: