Saturday, May 30, 2015

Timbuktu: a film by Abderrahmane Sissako

We've just come back from the first screening of Timbuktu in the UK. It is a visually stunning film. A soft desert landscape often filmed at sunset. It gives everything the sunlight touches a radiant glow. It's a way i think for the director to disguise the awful brutality of the jihadist regime that has occupied and now controls the lives of those who live there in Timbuktu.

The brutality is presented at first with a comic banality as a jihadist proclaims from a megaphone as he rides a moped through the sand filled streets, that smoking is prohibited, that women must wear gloves at all times, that there will be no music or football.

But these comic, almost laughable laws give way to moments of terrifying yet mundane violence. A woman is sentenced to 80 lashes of a whip for singing, we see a couple buried up to their necks and then stoned until they are dead. And then there is the awful sentence of the man who shot his neighbour unintentionally in a dispute about the killing of a a cow. It is his fate along with his wife and daughter that dominate the film.

The film weaves around the lives of both inhabitants and jihadists with an understated human sensitivity extended to both groups. Characters are not simplistic templates of good or evil, jihadist and citizen. The jihadis doubt and question their actions. For example one guard questions whether a group of women should be arrested for singing holy songs to God. The village women are strong, aggressive and challenging but ultimately submit to the physical presence and threats of  these driven men with automatic rifles, Toyota jeeps and mobile phones. Gadgets they seem to take an uncomfortable pleasure in using.

It's a visually beautiful film to watch. The intimate family relationship between husband, wife and daughter forms an emotional centre of the film. The light touches of humour are a simple delight. For example the donkey that walks across a football pitch during a game played with an imaginary ball. The men are presented with beauty, authority and dignity by their flowing robes. However women dressed in black robes and veils look imprisoned and uniformed. They express themselves despite their  clothes, whereas men are affirmed by their clothes. The jihadists hypocrisy is presented with one brief moment where one of the high ranking guards is smoking a cigarette privately and is discovered by a subordinate.

Click here for a Guardian review of Timbuktu a film by the African director Abderrahmane Sissako.

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