Timbuktu 26.01.18 [12]

Timbuktu is a 2014 French-Mauritanian drama film directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, starring Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri, Toulou Kiki and Hichem Yacoubi. Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards, and named twelfth “Best Film of the 21st Century So Far” in 2017 by The New York Times, it also won prizes at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

The legendary city of Timbuktu is under the occupation of extremist Islamists. A cattle herder, Kidane (Ahmed), and his family residing in the dunes of the city find their quiet lives – typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith – abruptly disturbed, when one of his cows accidentally damages the net of a fisherman, who, enraged, kills the cow. Kidane confronts the fisherman and accidentally shoots him dead. The jihadists then arrest the cattle herder and demand a blood money payment of 40 cattle to the fisherman’s family, in line with sharia law. As he only has only seven cattle, Kidane is sentenced to death. His wife (Kiki) shows up at his execution with a pistol…

Throughout the film, there are scenes displaying the reaction of the population to the jihadists’ rule, which are portrayed as absurd: A female fishmonger must wear gloves, music is banned and a woman is sentenced to 40 lashes for singing; also 40 lashes for being in the same room as a man not of her family. A couple are buried up to their necks in sand and stoned to death for adultery. Young men play football with an imaginary ball as sports are banned.

A local imam, who has long upheld the existing traditions of a benevolent and tolerant Islam, attempts to curb the jihadists’ excesses. The failure of the occupiers to live up to their own rules is hinted at, with one of them seen smoking a cigarette and when a group of jihadists from France spend their days talking about their favourite football teams.

Whilst addicted to cruelty and bullying, they are enslaved to their modern devices, such as mobile phones and cars.

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 99% approval rating and an average rating of 8.9/10 based on 105 reviews. It also received a score of 92 out of 100 on Metacritic, indicating “universal acclaim”. Both sites state that Timbuktu is the best reviewed foreign-language film of 2015. According to Joshua Keating, staff writer at Slate, an online magazine covering current affairs, politics and culture in the United States from a liberal perspective, Timbuktu is not only a visually gorgeous and emotionally affecting movie; it shows a side of modern warfare which he believes has never before been depicted on film.


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