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Film Review: Timbuktu
by Marinell Haegelin

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako, France | Mauritania
Timbuktu. The word conjures exotic, mysterious sensations, and is a metaphor in English dictionaries. The film however, falls short in delivering a cohesive storyline with its numerous vignettes about locals coping with a jihad coup. Juxtaposing urbanites with rural sand-dune dwellers, the oppression is relative. Islamic radicals, scarcely speaking the indigenous language, control with guns and censor. Now forbidden: music, smoking, playing soccer, dancing, etcetera. Women must wear gloves and nylons; men’s pants must be a certain length. Episodes include: repercussions from friends sharing a musical evening; an independent woman’s audacity; a devoted, goat herding family’s dilemma; a surly fisherman. Patrols regulate constantly, whether by foot, motor scooter, or truck. Ad hoc courts upholding the new jihadi laws hand out random, frequently gruesome verdicts.

Director Abderrahmane Sissako filmed in his native northern West Africa Mauritania rather than neighboring Mali for safety reasons: his location representing the capital city of the Timbuktu Region is ineffective, i.e. merely a town. The editing’s futile back-and-forth – city, country – cuts, and inconsequential, randomly inserted shots are confusing. Timbuktu provocatively looks at repercussions inhabitants endure when occupied by Islamic fundamentalism zealots, capturing our attention with beguiling visuals and hypnotic ethnic music. One can appreciate these qualities. Even without understanding German subtitles that may be enough for many.