Timbuktu Abderrahmane Sissoko eloquently portrays the strangelehold of IS fundamentalism on a desert community. The film's sumptuous visuals belie its gently, but firmly, provocative heart.

Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye
Time: 96 minutes

Timbuktu's opening sequence shows a small truck, flying the IS flag, loaded with gunmen firing at a running gazelle. “Don’t kill it, tire it!” comes the repeated cry.

It is a clear and revisited image of what imported jihadists are doing to the people and their culture in the Malian city of Timbuktu. Threatening the inhabitants with punishment every time they want to enjoy themselves, the fundamentalists squeeze the lifeblood from the community.

As a small band tries to impose Sharia law on the city, they walk around the streets with megaphones, calling out, “No smoking, no music, women must wear gloves.” The locals – including the Imam – all get upset. The woman selling fish at the market asks how she can do so wearing gloves. The boys have had their football confiscated, but take to playing the game with an imaginary ball, both in defiance of the ban and in the hope that this will not count as sport proper, so saving them from twenty lashes. A far worse fate awaits those who make music.

Meanwhile, out in the dunes, the herdsman Kidane and his family run into trouble after his altercation with a nearby fisherman escalates and justice is required.

One of the most surprising things about this portrayal is how the gunmen are not shown as frenzied savages, but as bumbling and hesitant amateurs at the job, skilled only in alienating their neighbours.

This story is based on the real politics of Mali over recent years. I have probably reviewed more music from Mali on this site (there is more this month) than from all the other African countries put together, and many talented musicians in that nation have had their careers put on hold for some while.

If we need to realise that, despite the poverty and distance, this is a globally-shared 21st century, Kidane's prized cow is called GPS.

Abderrahmane Sissoko has a gentle touch, finding the humanity in all of his characters, including the jihadists. That gentleness makes the fundamentalism look even harsher by contrast. Showing the town in the constant and visually sumptuous glow of orange sands and African light has a similar effect as legalism chokes it.

While the setting is African, the movie would also be a great discussion starter on legalism in the West.

timbuktu tentExtras: Disappointingly, the Blu-ray extras comprise only of the obligatory trailer and a music video; but you could argue that Sissoko makes his point so well that no interviews or other background info are quite so essential.

However, a factual featurette on the music ban would ground this in reality and could add punch to a story already well told. I suspect Sissoko has already brought on the ire of jihadists by making the film. To talk straight to camera might be a step too far.
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Derek Walker

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