Sissako’s film Timbuktu could not be well-timed, true to the story set during the occupation of Timbuktu, in the West African nation of Mali by Islamist forces. The film is a quiet portrayal of those people who live under the terror of religious fundamentalists. The women in the shaded tones of closed doors, tranquil and no insignia around, none of any shrieks, the resentment and tragedy condensed. Hitherto in its subtlety, setting frenzies aside for deeper, further by the opulent nature the film is crafted and believe me the director Abderrahmane Sissako display his masterful ability captivating dignity to his characters, Timbuktu endorse his status as one of the true humanists of the World cinema.
Thru the berth for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section at the 2014, winning critical response and the international spotlight shining on Timbuktu, the movie took home the best film prize at the Lumiere Awards and also been nominated for the best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Mauritanian Abderrahmane Sissako is well aware that only one African director has ever won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film, and that was the South African Gavin Hood in 2005.
Well to the name and likely enough, in a place that has been captured and liberated many times since its founding of this city some eight hundred years ago- the ridge away from the chaos is Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) lives with his wife (Toulou Kiki) and their twelve-year-old daughter, Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed) and guardian of orphan Issan (Mehdi Mohammad), enjoys a quiet life and their survival, in the shade of a capacious tent, is enviably placid. Their peace is short-lived with the new regime as the town comes under the jihadist judgment.
The audience expect Kidane’s story as the central theme. This in a way is Sissako’s style of movie making, which is certain drift away to introduce local eccentric, gaudily dressed characters in the narrow passage of fundamentalists, who drive the local command. Here you see the town witness the arrest of four people for displaying music, the singer Fatou gets punished of 40 lashes, dressed in her black abaya kneeling down to ground, with her face stained and softly humming to the piece and it’s no wonder that all these defiant souls are women, who always the ones with the most to mislay.
The film is tough to grip, the clique befits to the sand-blown locale and the fabled eminence of Timbuktu encapsulate to the new high. The astounding climax of this is seen in an awe-inspiring long widescreen shot, with the sun setting over the hills and the fisherman’s small pond where Issan is seen driving the herd to the water, Issan loses control of his charges and a prize cow gets caught in the nets of fisherman Amadou. The fisherman spears the beast and consequences bring Kidane to the spot padding a pistol merely as a threat, but their physical struggle between Kidane and the fisherman in the shallow of the lake. The clash between these two men is given a grand stage in nature by Sissako, and with this one image, the director translates both the straightforwardness of the conflict and its liberal moral ramifications with sobering response and in moments like these are unselfish. The fight for the survival under gunfire trigger the bullet and we witness the accident killing the fisherman, only to be calmed by a tenebrous long shot of one opponent wading in despair beyond the shore. As for the couple charged with adultery and buried up to their necks, we see only the first stone being cast at their pates, and then the second, before the sequence ends. We know the rest.
Sissako conveys a wholly personal sense of faith, a sense of being aware of one’s slights against the almighty and your fellow man, and a comfort with whatever the punishment shall ultimately be.
It’s why the crime that Kidane commits feels so much more sorrowful, so tragic, as compared to the ugliness and horror of the jihadists’ punishments. There’s a purposeful coldness to the sequence where a couple is stoned to death, as Sissako sees this as being outside of god’s will, and ultimately nothing more than brutality and murder used to reinforce one’s own shallow sense of piety. In Sissako’s view, the agenda of the jihadists is to create their own self-serving kingdom in Timbuktu, where their authority overrules both god and family. There’s a deeply felt sequence wherein a young woman is forced to marry a jihadist soldier despite her mother’s objections. Here, Sissako rightfully opines that control over women is one of the jihadists’ primary goals, one stated early into the film when a female fishmonger is taken into custody for not wearing gloves. Timbuktu tells the story of the silent struggle of the people, the fight for life of little Issan, and the uncertain future of the children.
The long shots of an incident at the lake has a breath-taking exquisiteness and the film’s use of the landscape and the light of the desert are stunning, the photography by Sofian El Fani is unreserved and picture perfect and so with the performance remain consistent. In true nature of film connoisseurs, this one will remain ever tender and deeply moving- A very important film in the context of influence over extremist groups around the world, both in an urban chaos or a hamlet, where life still remains existential.
In his recent interview Sissako explained. “What I really wanted to do was go deep into things, things that are very small and simple but which in a sense are even larger, and go beyond Timbuktu and when Timbuktu, a culture like that, is under assault, it’s all of humanity that is being attacked.”