Film Review – Timbuktu



Oscar-nominated Timbuktu is centered on the town of the same name in Mali. It does not focus on a particular story, but an event that turns the small, diverse community upside down. Islamic Jihadists have taken over the area, implementing their rules and their form of justice. Through several incidents depicted throughout the film, it shows what can happen when a group takes over a community and their influence has ripple effects, affecting even those that live in the outskirts of Timbuktu.

Set in an area surrounded by sand and buildings that reflect the landscape, director Abderrahmane Sissako takes on the complicated task of writing and telling a story of an invasion set in an unfamiliar landscape. The film uses five different languages. The language barriers affect the communication between the Jihadists and the locals, although not all the locals speak the same language either. This element of the film is a bit hard to listen for if you cannot tell the difference between French and some of the other languages. Even religion is not a common thread, as some believe their own version of Islam. The Jihadists use religion as an excuse and a weapon for their enforcements.

Timbuktu Movie Still 1

While a few characters appear throughout the film, it is not a continuous narrative. The most compelling and beautiful story in the film revolves around a cattle-herder, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino). Kidane, his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki), daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed), and their young cattle herder Issan (Mehdi Ag Mohamed) live in the desert outside of Timbuktu.  One of Kidane’s beloved cows, GPS, is involved in a run-in with a fisherman and dies. This sets the stage for the rest of the Kidane’s story. He unfortunately has to come into contact and obey these Jihadists’ rules. One of the Jihadists in power, Abdelkerim (Abel Jafri) obviously covets his wife.

Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino portrayal of Kidane is compelling and soulful. He depicts the Kidane’s mercy, kindness, and love so easily. You can see it on his face, in his eyes, even though most of it is covered in a turban-like scarf. Through the love of his family, he does not display wrath or anger easily. While many actors are in Timbuktu, his performance stands out above the rest. You will be thinking about the actor and the character at the end of the film.

Timbuktu Movie Still 2

While the scenery of the film is desolate and remote, it does have a certain beauty to it with the rolling sand dunes and buildings that are not modern. Kidane’s tent in the desert is pretty much the most relaxing place I could imagine right now. The land is a character in and of itself, conveying the remoteness and the isolation of the Timbuktu community. Life is still simple; at least it was prior to the Jihadists arrival.

It feels like Hollywood is making films to show how Middle Eastern and African terrorists are attacking our modern world. Timbuktu adds a unique perspective and on a much lower key. These Jihadists may not be terrorists in our sense of the word, but they certainly are to the people living in Timbuktu. Instead of bombs, these people wield guns, threats of violence, and take away their way of life if their imposed rules are not followed. It is not a complicated setting, so it focuses more on the situations and the people. While I will categorize it as simple film, it is not something bad. For once in these type of films, a director and writer has gotten to the heart of the problem at hand and has not relied on special effects or complicated narratives. It is an interesting, beautiful, and uncommon look at a family, a community, and a livelihood put into harm’s way all in the name of extreme religion.




Sarah resides in Dallas where she writes about films and trailers in her spare time when she is not taking care of her animals at the zoo.

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