Timbuktu – Film Review

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Timbuktu: a French-Mauritanian drama. The year is 2012. Islamist extremists have taken over the ancient Malian city of Timbuktu. The director and co-writer Abderrahmane Sissako does an excellent job of showing the day to day life of people trying to survive when Shariah law is imposed on them by outsiders. Sissako tells his story primarily through a married herdsman, click Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), stuff who has a young daughter and a wife whose opinion he seeks even though he doesn’t always follow it. Ahmed’s performance is remarkable. His blissful, hospital simple life goes very bad. During the opening sequence, there are scenes of jihadists who cannot successfully shoot an animal running for its life. There are also men entering a mosque toting guns and, when asked what they are doing, state that they are carrying out jihad. The resident Imam has to tell them the obvious – that is not what one does in a mosque. There are a series of scenes showing the town crier announcing various prohibitions: music is not allowed; adultery is particularly bad during Ramadan. There are brief scenes of a woman receiving 40 lashes for singing, and a couple accused of adultery, buried to their necks in sand then stoned to death. Even the leaders of the extremist group are unable to live up to the standards dictated by Shariah law. The movie shows that faith is not the problem but rather people who believe they are God’s messenger acting in the name of God. The city’s traditional Imam tries to explain the local customs and common courtesies to the jihadists. The jihadists’ response is that everything is done in the name of Allah. The reality is that the jihadists have the gun and the gun controls all. Although Timbuktu was under the jihadists’ control for a relatively short time, much damage occurred. The film is subtitled as the characters speak in their native tongues. 6 different languages are spoken including a few words in English, however, there is not a lot of dialogue. The city and its surrounding geography are part of the story. This is a remarkable film.

Steve Guttman

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