Timbuktu takes place during the occupation of that city by Islamists. The occupiers want to enforce sharia law, but to their frustration they discover that the city is populated for the most part by quietly observant Muslims, which makes their jihad quite unnecessary.
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Sissako's storytelling is concise and sharp, and paired with El Fani's cinematography makes for some truly poetic and beautiful cinema. For me though the true brilliance of this film was its depiction of something rarely seen or noticed in western media. The story of the muslim people and communities who are subjugated to this fascist oppression, by islamic jihadist regimes. For they are the people who truly suffer.
The African people, their culture, their land, their homes, their clothes, their music, all beautifully photographed. But this is a tragic "message" film as well, about the oppression of West African people by Islamic Jihadists. So well-produced, and so convenient for the Western producers, who of course, would never dream of subjugating, murdering, kidnapping and oppressing Tribal Africans. Europeans don't do that!
The film has a good premise, but couldn't quite deliver. We aren't given enough time to actually feel the changes that came with fundamentalism. Consequences - like women having to wear gloves - are shown in scenes which are too short to convey a a message. Shots beautiful, but the film doesn't go beyond so-called "first meaning". What we see is what we get, not more, not less. It doesn't appeal to creative thinking.
The three previous films I know of Sissako put him, from my point of view, in a prominent level in the current panorama of contemporary cinema. This one, unexpectedly, is much lower: preserving some of his ironic and temporal suspension - like, for example, "La Vie sur Terre" - and "Bamako" 's political simulacrum , apart from the initial and final scenes is a film diluted in a formless intentionality.
Great soccer scene and superb scenery. I really can't give an opinion about the rest of the film. Women seem to be the sole people working there, men indulging in less tiring activities like praying, discussing and lecturing. Now why watch Timbuktu if you want to form your own opinion about the local political or social situation? Timbuktu is nothing more than a safe movie. Already forgotten.
In it's best moments, staggeringly poetic and beautiful. In it's worst; naive, preachy and heavy-handed. Timbuktu functions a little like a essay that uses constructed tragedy to explore a religious and ideological viewpoints. 3.5 stars