Timbuktu (12A) | Close-Up Film Review

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Dir. Abderrahmane Sissako, France/Mauritania, 2014, 97 mins, in French/Arabic/Bambara/English and Songhay with English subtitles

Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri, Fatoumata Diawara, Hichem Yacoubi, Kettly Noël, Layla Walet Mohamed, Mehdi A.G. Mohamed

Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu is a powerful humanist portrait of a family whose life is turned upside down by the Jihadists who terrorise a neighbouring town.

Timbuktu begins with gunshots, something that sets the tone for the film’s duration. The film compares the life of a peaceful farmer named Kidane (Ahmed) who lives in the dunes not far from Timbuktu with his wife, young daughter and 12 year-old shepherd; to the neighbouring town’s people who are subject to a powerful regime of Islamic militants. The change in Timbuktu however comes when Kidane accidentally kills a local fisherman. From this point on Timbuktu charts the downward spiral of Kidane and his family’s life.

Filmed in Southeast Mauritania, the film depicts how the new rulers banned many forms of entertainment and vital human rights, such as music, laughter and soccer, controlling every elements of life by imposing tragic and absurd sentences for all manner of perceived crimes. In particular, the film takes note of the strict oppression of women who throughout are maligned and beaten, yet continue to resist with dignity.

Based on a widely unreported incident that happened in July 2012 in Aguelhok, in which an unmarried man and women were publically stoned to death, Timbuktu explores a similar incident within its plot. What becomes very apparent within the film is that the plot transcends its initial shock value; to become an unrelenting, endlessly sad tale of the damage the Islamist regime has on everyday life. Timbuktu is a timely film with a powerful political message. Gracefully assembled, the film is compassionate towards the characters as the camera is unabating in depicting the unraveling incident.

Timbuktu is a beautiful film that remains faithful in depicting this West African nation. Ahmed is pitch perfect as Kidane, a loving father and husband who resigns himself to his fate whilst hoping against all hope to be reunited with his family. Similarly there is a star turn from his daughter Toya (played by Walet Mohammed) who throughout patiently waits for her father to return. Although the sense of impending doom is present throughout, this does little to make the film’s ending less heartbreaking.

In the current political climate, Timbuktu could not have been better received. The film won big at the 2015 40th Cesar Awards, most notably for Best Feature Film, Best Original Music, Sound, Cinematography, Editing and Director.

Timbuktu is as sincere as it is revelatory, tragically rendered in the film’s final moments. Unmissable.

Review by

Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

Author: Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

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