Timbuktu | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


In this Oscar-nominated film, variously worldly citizens of Mali suffer when strict religious law comes to town

From director Abderrahmane Sissako comes Timbuktu, a pointed but lyrical film depicting the frightening effects that follow the imposition of strict Islamic law in the titular North African city. Sissako presents the arrival of self-proclaimed jihadists from Libya with little sympathy, showing them chasing a gazelle across the sand with their truck ("don't kill it; tire it"), and using folk-art sculptures for target practice.

The lightly plotted film unfolds in a series of vignettes, showing the men imposing harsh new laws, usually at gunpoint: demanding that women wear gloves, arresting musicians and confiscating soccer balls. Timbuktu also shows resistance both futile and wry (a soccer game continues without the ball). And it casts light on the jihadists' own hypocrisy (conveniently dismissed with handy "religious" explanation) and indisputable weaknesses.

click to enlarge Timbuktu Oscar Nominated Film
Children of the desert, in Timbuktu

Sissako's film is beautifully shot (in nearby Mauritania), and is among this year's nominations for Best Foreign Language picture. With similar, real-life groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram in the news, Timbuktu should resonate deeply with viewers.

The film ends as it began, with a beautiful creature — this time, a child — running in fear across the dunes. It is not necessary to kill, but simply to tire one's prey, and in Timbuktu, these powerful, intractable newcomers will likely grind out beauty, joy and self-expression.

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