Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
With Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki
With English subtitles
A Curzon Artificial Eye release
Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated film is a timely, tender and powerful tale.
Arriving at an auspicious time—after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attacks in France and reports of a Boko Haram massacre in Nigeria have raised global concerns over militant jihadists—Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissoko’s sixth film, “Timbuktu”, offers a perspective largely missing from Western media reports: the indigenous African point of view.
The film details the arrival of an armed band of jihadists who occupy a Malian village not far from Timbuktu and declare sharia law. The film is primarily concerned with the impact of the jihadists on the village, whose peaceful existence is now threatened by violence, detention, and brutal punishments for such crimes as daring to play music. The main protagonist, Kidane, is a cattle farmer who lives in the sandy desert outside the village with his wife and daughter. Initially unaffected by the jihadists, he is drawn into the centre of their conflict following a dispute over a cow who wanders into a river fisherman’s net.
The storyline is based on real-life events: a 2012 occupation of the fabled city by Islamic militants—many reportedly mercenaries displaced from Libya after the US-backed overthrow of Qaddhafi—which garnered a number of media reports in the Western press detailing how hundreds of thousands of Timbuktu’s historical artefacts and ancient documents were smuggled to safety.
There’s also a much larger backstory behind “Timbuktu.” The history of Arab incursion into sub-Saharan Africa is a long and complex one; Mali and Mauritania were both conquered by Arabs long before they were colonised by the French, and it’s not uncommon for Northwest Africans to have Muslim first names and traditional tribal surnames, as Sissoko does.