A cattle herder and his family who reside in the dunes of Timbuktu find their quiet lives -- which are typically free of the Jihadists determined to control their faith -- abruptly disturbed. A look at the brief occupation of Timbuktu by militant Islamic rebels.


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  • ★★★★★ review by Lise on Letterboxd

    tiff 2014 film #10

    This film struck me like no other at TIFF.

    If you want to know what it is like, really like, when your world gets taken over by regimes or fanatics that haphazardly impose their will over yours, this is the film to see. If you want to know what it is like to be helpless, truly helpless, the way many communities are in the world, this is the film to see. If you want to see the results of fanaticism, not in the big headline-worthy way (although that too) but in the insidious way it manifests itself in your daily life, this is the film to see.

    Director Abderrahmane Sissako takes his time, he takes care of the people in the town of Timbuktu, showing their struggle to continue living as normally as they can when their lives are taken over by fundamentalists. He focuses on the courage of the city dwellers who stand up to the fanatics in their very small way. When one of the fundamentalist soldiers walks through town announcing that from this day forward all women must wear gloves, a fishmonger dresses him down with a vehement refusal, showing him that she could not handle the fish she sells if she has to wear gloves. These small scenes are powerful and essential. Sissako wants to show the absurdity of the situation while nonetheless keeping it very real. And very real it is.

    No amount of news articles on the Taliban or ISIS or whatever they call themselves on this particular day can capture what Sissako shows in his film. Take a break from reading and watch this film instead. Your heart will explode. Then start reading again.

  • ★★★★ review by Jonathan White on Letterboxd

    TIFF 2014 film #10

    Reason for pick: Buzz from Cannes

    Director Abderrahmane Sissako frames his story of the occupation of Timbuktu by Islamic fundamentalist rebels with a perfect first scene. A jeep filled with men carrying machine guns races across the plane chasing a gazelle. Several rounds are fired, and we hear a voice yell out “ no! no! we don’t want to kill him, we just want to wear him out.”

    Aside from this opening shot, the extremists are not painted as banshee screaming gun firing boogymen. No, their quiet insinuation into the lives of the residents of Timbuktu is much more insidious. With Sharia law imposed, hands can be chopped, daughters taken against their and their parents will to be forced brides, and stoning the punishment for suspected adultery.

    Some of what is depicted shows the absurdity of it all; a jeep driving around the village proclaiming that women must henceforth wear gloves and socks. Singing is prohibited. In one particularly ironic scene, a rebel soldier reports back to his superior that he didn’t know how to proceed. He caught a couple singing, but they were singing the praises to Allah.

    Neither melodramatic nor distant, Timbuktu casts a candid light on the effect occupation has on the citizenry. You see the result alluded to in the first scene. The people are gradually being worn down. They are leaving.

  • ★★★½ review by CinemaClown on Letterboxd

    Powerful, evocative & thoroughly engrossing, Timbuktu is a riveting portrait of life under the regime of terror that brilliantly illustrates the absurdity of extremist mentality in a sardonic manner while also showcasing the hypocrisy of the Jihadists who themselves are unable to live up to the rules they so blatantly like imposing on the general population.

    Timbuktu covers everyday life in the titular city of Mali which is under the occupation of Islamists & covers the harsh life its residents are forced to live for all leisurely activities are forbidden. The plot centres on a cattle herder & his family who live on the outskirts of the city and are typically free from those terrorists' interference but an unexpected incident abruptly changes their fate.

    Co-written & directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, Timbuktu tackles a provocative subject matter in a very serene manner by sidelining the barbaric brutality that's inflicted by terrorists upon civilians on a daily basis and instead focuses on the human condition within an oppressed regime. Sissako's direction exhibits terrific restraint but the script is unable to fill all the voids that exist in between.

    The desolate locations & deserted set pieces evoke a grim environment with nearly no signs of life, camera is effectively utilised to capture all the unfolding drama in a clear, concise manner, Editing however is a mixed bag for the subsidiary scenes are more engaging than the main plot, its 96 minutes of runtime feels overly stretched, and music makes its presence felt only when it is required.

    Coming to the performances, the entire cast does really well in bringing their characters to life with utmost sincerity & what further helps their act is that the people they play aren't mere caricatures, thanks to some sensible writing. Despite its grim tone, the graphic violence is kept at bay for the most part but where the film leaves its mark is in moments that demonstrate the jihadists' oppressive tactics to control people's lives & faith.

    On an overall scale, Timbuktu is a patiently structured, beautifully layered & surprisingly unbiased observation of radicalism & its devastating effects on the lives it touches upon. Skilfully directed & smartly scripted, its arrival is undoubtedly timely and what's even more admirable is the fact that it dares to portray those zealots as humans blinded by single-minded ideologies but humans nonetheless. Adding more grey shades to what appears black n white from afar, Timbuktu is undeniably worthy of a broader audience.

  • ★★★★ review by Ed Gonzalez on Letterboxd

    Do not miss this great film when it comes to a theater at a major metropolis near you at the end of the month. It has its imperfections, but they pale in significance to its elegiac sense of will. After what happened yesterday in Paris, and especially for those confused about the ties between Islam and terrorism or operating under the mistaken belief that Charlie Hebdo's provocations weren't necessary, the film's searing, lucid depiction of innocents rightfully, righteously fighting fundamentalism from within will grip you in horrified empathy.

  • ★★★★½ review by Raul Marques on Letterboxd

    I get kind of annoyed whenever I hear Americans saying with all the pride in the world that they live in a free country. Mostly because that expression is commonly used in defense of questionable acts, but also because they say it like freedom was an exclusivity of the US. Fortunately, films like this exist and make me value every bit of liberty and democracy we have, as much as they're flawed.

    The movie itself is superbly directed, the desolate and beautiful scenery is exquisitely explored, tightly edited and features some huge performances. Some sequences are definitely sticking to me for a long time, like the ball-less football and the woman singing while getting punished for it.

    I don't use the word that often, but that's a picture that deserves it: Essential.

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