Timbuktu – Movie Review by Frank L.
Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
Writers: Abderrahmane Sissako (screenplay), Kessen Tall (screenplay)
Stars: Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri, Toulou Kiki
Timbuktu, Mali has been taken over by jihadists and strict ideologically driven Sharia law is being enforced on the population who are Muslims. They are devout but not fanatical. Women under the new regime are required to wear gloves, only their eyes can be seen, music is forbidden, singing is forbidden and smoking is forbidden, and that is just for starters. In any rigid system of law enforced by an authoritarian elite, there is a different application of the law applied to those in authority and those who are not. The same applies in Timbuktu.
Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed aha Pino) is a herdsman who lives, in a traditional low sloping tent, outside Timbuktu, in relative calm, with his wife, Satima (Toulon Kiki) and daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed) who is the apple of his eye. There is a calm confidence in the way he continues to live his traditional life based on the herding of his few cattle with his young shepherd Issan (Mehdi Ag Mohamed) notwithstanding the activities of the fundamentalists. A neighbour too tends his rudimentary fishing nets with biblical simplicity in a nearby stretch of water from which the cattle also drink. However this pastoral simplicity is changing as is evidenced by the use of the mobile phone and trucks in this sparse countryside of sand and scrub. Sissako has an astute eye for the visual juxtapositions which arise as a result of these changes. Certain things however remain essential including the need to share this strip of water; this need leads to a dispute. The dispute brings the fundamentalists into centre stage into the life of Kidane’s family and that of his neighbour and the application of Sharia law in a rigid manner.
The role of an outside force enforcing religious fundamentalism on a peaceful civilian population highlights the dangers of the application rigidly of a legal code which takes little or no account of the realities of life of those on whom it is being enforced. The apparent pettiness of so much of the restrictions imposed are hard to fathom. But fundamentalism leads its exponents into less than rational places. Timbuktu is no exception. The photography both of the mud walled city and in the surrounding scrub is a delight in particular the sight of an abandoned football dropping slowly down deserted steps is memorable. The backdrop of a civilian way of life, being purposefully dislocated, makes a fine setting in which the personal dispute between Kidane and his fisherman neighbour is to be resolved.
Director Sissako has created a beautiful film visually with a highly relevant story to tell, think of Syria. It manages to mix the personal story with the political one with confidence. The need to apply law tempered by mercy is tellingly told in this thoughtful piece.