(directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, 2014)
****+ (out of 5)
> At my request, my awesome local library bought this extraordinary Best Foreign Film nominee from Mali, and from start to finish it was a stunner! It’s really very sad that even in this age of mass digital distribution so many truly great films from around the world are just never seen by many Americans. No wonder our culture is so narcissistic and self-referential, when the only thing we see in our now ubiquitous media is ourselves reflected back at ourselves.
. To anyone who really wants to understand Islamic fundamentalism and it’s real-life effect on local populations- look no further than TIMBUKTU. Like Malala Yossef’s youthful memoir “My Name is Malala”, this is a very revealing and insightful examination of the rise and spread of ISIL, as see from ground level. We watch the people try to adjust to new and arbitrary dress and behavior codes, enforced by roving gangs of “spiritual” militia, and failing to do so, pay horrible prices. The punishment for playing music in your house is brutal and final. In one fascinating scene, the moral police roam the streets silently at night listening for people breaking the music taboo- but they don’t know what to do when they come across a family singing about their love and devotion to Allah.
. Hannah Arendt was the glib thinker who coined the phrase “the banality of evil”. She sure had a handle on something.
. It is rather astonishing how low-key this film is for such potent subject matter, but the movie unfolds with the gradual rhythms of the west Saharan Desert and the people who live there. In a conflict over resources between a herding family and a fishing family, a man is killed, setting into motion a cascade of tragedy.
Unfortunately, the final act seems more than a bit forced. We aren’t “prepped” for it at all, making the viewer question one character’s actions, considering the harm it would bring to her child. But we in the west are not prepared for any of this reality. There is not a second of this film that is not quietly fascinating, and most it is very beautiful to watch, in a dry, thirsty way, that makes one clear the imaginary dust from one’s throat. The traditional music we do here, before the cultural ax comes down, is mesmerizing, celebratory stuff that more reflects hopes and dreams from the past, and for the future, than this terrible present time.
. See TIMBUKTU! It’s a very special film.
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