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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.