Timbuktu! The hotly anticipated sequel to last Summer’s international sensation Timbuk One!
Ok, no. Not really
Near Timbuktu in Mali, a small, peaceful-seeming village has been taken over by religious fundamentalists who rule with impunity. These jihadist thug assholes haul around the desert in trucks and motorbikes, shooting at wildlife with automatic rifles, issuing absurd proclamations by megaphone (Women must wear gloves and socks at all times!) and punishing those who disobey. It’s grim stuff, but surprisingly this new film by Abderrahmane Sissako balances the horror with moments of beauty, defiance and a sly humor that at times almost threatens to explode into full on absurdity. It’s a curious, heady and wholly beguiling mix that somehow works even it doesn’t seem like it should.
Though there are several subplots, the main story follows the gentle Kidane, his strong and defiant wife Satima, their young daughter Toya and a young shepherd boy who tends to their cow “GPS.” Whenever Kidane is away, the leader of the jihadists comes sniffing around, but she resists. When an incident over GPS escalates into an accidental shooting, Kidane is hauled in by the authorities, and the family is threatened with an arranged marriage for Toya.
Against this backdrop of building drama, a woman is publicly flogged for daring to sing and a young couple is stoned to death because they’re together without being married. At the same time, the people resist in subtle ways. The film’s highlight involves a group of young men who, when football is forbidden, mime a game with an invisible ball while the authorities circle impotently in their truck.
Moments of grace and hope aside, the prevailing trend of the film is one of tragedy. The status quo where morons with automatic weapons wield all the power simply can’t continue without something truly horrifying happening. Somehow Sissako balances this sense of impending doom and surprising hopefulness in a single final image which can be read in both ways. The horror continues but hope will not die.
Timbuktu is one of those unique and unexpected (but always hoped for pleasures) you only seem to discover at film festivals. For every 10 mediocre films, it only takes one like this to make it all worth while.