Timbuktu: Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-Nominated Film

timbuktu_2World-premiering at the 2014 Cannes Film Fest, where several of his films have been shown, “Timbuktu” represents Mauritanian-born director Sissako’s first film in the prestigious section, Competition.

The film was shown in October at the New York Film Fest, and will open theatrically January 27, 2015.

On one level, “Timbuktu” is a political message feature about an issue few Western viewers know about (and if they do, it’s from the biased media coverage). On another, equally significant level, “Timbuktu” is an arthouse work that’s sharply told and expertly directed, boasting imagery that’s both breathtaking and heartrending.

In this lyrical drama from the African filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, after a jihadist takeover of northern Mali, a proud cattle herder comes into a fateful conflict with the fundamentalist rulers of the provincial capital.

timbuktu_1Not far from Timbuktu, now ruled by the religious fundamentalists, Kidane lives peacefully in the dunes with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and Issan, their twelve-year-old.
In town, the powerless people suffer from the regime of terror imposed by the Jihadists who are determined to control their faith.  Music, laughter, cigarettes, even soccer have been banned.  The women have become shadows of themselves, but resist oppression with remarkable dignity.
Every day, the new improvised courts issue tragic and absurd sentences. Kidane and his family are being spared the chaos that prevails in Timbuktu.  But their destiny changes when Kidane accidentally kills Amadou, the fisherman who slaughtered “GPS,” his beloved cow.  He now has to face the new laws of the foreign occupants.
“Timbuktu” serves as authentic witness to incredibly atrocious acts and the existence of people living an inevitably risky life in the extreme.

A shrewd filmmaker, Sissako knows that lending the film a more straightforward documentary-realistic style would limit its accessibility as well as its status as an art work.  As a result, he imbues his dark and grim tale with some absurdist and surreal touches.

It’s to Sissako’s credit that “Timbuktu” is effective in both visceral and cerebral ways, due to the humanist perspective that infuses the tale and its characters.