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Critics reviews
Timbuktu
Abderrahmane Sissako Mauritania, 2014
It’s always tempting to describe art works of obvious contemporary relevance as “timely,” but to do so runs the risk of reducing them to abstract political statements or conversational bargaining chips. Timbuktu is such a film. It is, however, quite clearly one for the ages: an emphatically humanistic work that doesn’t pretend to have answers to the problems it so gracefully depicts.
January 04, 2016
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Sissako’s feel for the desert landscapes of Africa here is as evocative as John Ford’s was of the American southwest in his great late westerns. It is this effortless combination of docudrama and lyricism that ultimately elevates TIMBUKTU to the status of the transcendent.
June 26, 2015
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The fact remains that there are few filmmakers alive today wearing a mantle of moral authority comparable to that which Sissako has taken upon himself, and if his film has been met with an extraordinary amount of acclaim, it is because he manages to wear this mantle lightly, and has not confused drubbing an audience with messages with profundity. I can’t imagine the film having been made any other way, by anyone else – and this is one measure of greatness.
May 28, 2015
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This is in no way the remorselessly grim film its subject matter might lead you to expect – it’s full of life, irony, poetry and bitter unfairness. It demands respect, but it also earns it.
May 28, 2015
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Sissako has rightly been praised for his ability to bring out the basic humanity on both sides of such diametrically opposed factions, but what impresses most in Timbuktu is his ability to express that humanity in such a subtle, formally restrained manner, calmly observing the way characters bring their respective energies and convictions to every interpersonal encounter.
March 26, 2015
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Sissako stages [the murder], those surrounding it and their consequences as a series of visual and aural discordances anchored in the various ethnicities of his performers. The way they move, dress, speak, the sound of their voices, the music they play (or censor), the technology they resort to – all of this is rooted in a specific history, which they bring with them.
March 14, 2015
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Sissako’s film unfolds with a loose narrative surrounding a dispute between two residents of Timbuktu that ends in murder, but that’s only one thread in a larger mosaic. Subtle acts of rebellion connect them all, the most potent involving a group of young men playing a soccer game despite lacking the necessary ball. It’s a gorgeous sequence of protest against the arrogant tyranny of violence and fear.
March 04, 2015
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It is difficult to unearth love, joy, and erotic charge in a story that begins with the killing of a man, includes capital punishment, and ends with the agonized features of an orphaned child. But this is what the Mauritanian filmmaker Abdulrahman Sissako does in Timbuktu.
February 22, 2015
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In scene after beautifully measured scene, Sissako and his camera look past the Islamists’ self-applied suits of armor—the long black cloaks and sunglasses that cloud their countenances along with their motives.
February 12, 2015
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it’s fittingly tragic that the film’s soul lies with the woman seen in the shot cited at the top of this piece — a presumed-insane bohemian wanderer whose pursuits of happiness strike the oppressors as too strange to fit into a punishable box. Sissako has persuasively reflected a world in which alleged insanity’s the only freedom from corruption.
February 06, 2015
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Sissako is constructing a commentary on jihadism in strictly Muslim terms, his point being that militant fundamentalism is about control—often subverted desire—and power, not religious principles. This idea gets its most affecting expression through the plight of the movie’s central figure, Kidane (the eminently likable Ibrahim Ahmed Dit Pino), the cowherd.
January 29, 2015
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Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu is bracingly original and unexpected—a welcome shock to the system for American moviegoers who’ve grown used to seeing prosaic melodrama in topical or torn-from-the-headline movies. This fearless poetic response to the jihadist occupation of the title city and its imposition of Sharia law unfolds in charged tableaux and conveys the wreckage of a civilization lyrically and potently, in 95 spare, suggestive minutes.
January 28, 2015
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Part of what makes “Timbuktu” such a striking film is the way Sissako insists on giving the jihadists full humanity even as he clearly and deeply deplores their actions. This feat of understanding and empathy is just one of the many things that this exceptional film executes exceptionally well.
January 28, 2015
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With a stoning, barbarism shows its true face, yet Sissako has constructed a film that sets up our sympathies almost too neatly. Part of the power of Bamako came from its constant recourse to disruption and interruption; while also episodic, Timbuktu, which was inspired by the city’s actual takeover by militants, seems almost to withhold the full force of the hammer coming down—it’s a painful poem but without its predecessor’s energy of performance.
January 28, 2015
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The most tragic of events—including the stoning of an unmarried married couple, which Sissako claims inspired his first draft—are made all the more devastating for their sobriety of vision, but Sissako’s eye also refuses to flinch before quotidian moments of beauty, however snuffed out they become—giving a stronger imprint, ultimately, to what is lost rather than how it is taken.
January 28, 2015
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The actors playing the family at the plot’s center (Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki and Layla Walet Mohamed) stand out in a large and excellent cast. The humane Islam of the Tuareg people and Timbuktu is its own rebuke to the invaders. Each scene is breathtaking, such as a long shot of a river at a key moment, and an unforgettable soccer game played with no ball. “Timbuktu” deserves every accolade it gets.
January 28, 2015
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The film is consistently visually stunning in a way that’s ever more rare, and Sissako’s bravura moment of filmmaking is embedded in a scene on a river that seals the Tuareg patriarch’s fate. Even if you’ve hardened your heart to a point where tales of everyday people taking a stand no longer move you, it’s worth seeing the film for that quiet spectacle alone.
January 27, 2015
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Painting his characters as multidimensional human beings, not illustrations of opposing takes on life, [Sissako] manages to weave the beauty of local culture into the plot. His directing is sensitive and careful for the most part, impressively intuitive, effortless. There is a slightly looser control over the second part of it, but the performances (especially first-time actor and musician Ibrahim Ahmed as the lead) remain believable and touching.
January 10, 2015
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The only explicit atrocity shown is a stoning: a man and a frantic-looking woman, buried up to their necks. The dull thud of the first rock, then blood flowing. With unanswerable cruelty, intelligence, and elegance, Sissako stages the unfilmable by linking it to the more delirious: away from his men, Abdelkrim leaps and capers, attempting a clumsy, savage choreography, arms reaching out to the skies, before dropping heavily to the dusty ground.
January 06, 2015
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Sissako furiously and tenderly mourns the city’s diverse, lyrical, multicultural life and looks ruefully at the repressed but vital sparks of resistance, even while suggesting the void—of government and of law, of a unifying authority—that the jihadists cavalierly fill. His depiction of the absurd and agonizing intrusion of cruel and unjust forces into the intimate lives of the residents of Timbuktu makes clear, as few films do, that the personal is indeed political.
January 01, 2015
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Like a great poet, Sissako invests this beauty with the capacity to stand in meaningful protest. At a time when Islamic extremism and Western militarism feed off each other in a perpetual fever, Timbuktu is required viewing not only for its deeply felt indignation but also for its humanism, poetry, and tact.
December 18, 2014
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Sissako’s relatively slow visual style, which soaks in natural light in long, often wide shots, may seem at odds with the tense and urgent situation he describes (though Timbuktu is notably more fleet than his previous feature, 2006’s Bamako). The film’s inherent drama could easily be heightened with manufactured dread and suspense, but Sissako relaxes the pace to gain a broader view. Instead of accentuating conflict, he details smaller moments of change.
October 12, 2014
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God may never be a tangible force in this piercing, unrelenting film, but as Fatou (Fatoumata Diawara), a local musician, sings through her tears and above the cracking of a whip against her back, punishment for playing music in her own home, the true measure of real faith, in God as well as in man, is felt forcefully and seen with peerless clarity.
October 01, 2014
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With jihadists upholding The Law, the story moves in a particular direction, which the director manages to shape so that a morally reprehensible judgment is transformed into cinematic perfection. In this, as in other extreme long shots of violent acts, he is well served by DP Sofiane El Fani, who captures the desert’s peculiar emptiness all the way through with brilliant use of widescreen.
September 26, 2014
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This is not the black-and-white, good-and-evil screed you might expect: Sissako’s generosity of vision extends to both oppressors and oppressed, even as he shows the horrific consequences of the militants’ actions. Given recent world events, this is one of the most urgent films at this festival. It’s also, as it so happens, one of the most visually striking.
September 25, 2014
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Black-and-white ideological positions don’t generally make for nuanced drama, but Sissako’s patient tempo, his supple navigation of a wide spectrum of individuals and moods (including a fair bit of humour and warmth) and disinclination to caricature even men whose intolerance marks them as his polar opposite transcend melodrama. As always, his images have an easy graceful flow and balance.
September 01, 2014
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Shooting in imperious widescreen, with memorable scenes including a group of young boys playing an imaginary football match without a ball, Sissako traces a cultural conflict distinct from the dominant noise about Islam and the West, but no less intractable: that between the Maghrebin world and sub-Saharan Africa.
July 11, 2014
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Timbuktu is film as nightmare, made out of a furious need to show the world with what wanton ease joy and beauty have been destroyed.
July 07, 2014
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A collection of absurd situations pile up—the Jihadist invaders demand a woman wear gloves when selling fish, all music is banned—until the first intrusion of livestock in this animal-loaded festival, the death of a cow, leads to familial tragedy. I managed to stay awake until (and this is true) I dozed off in the very last scene, but I got the point.
June 25, 2014
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Sissako shoots the film in typically unobtrusive style, with his chosen locale’s natural surroundings providing most of the visual interest, seamlessly edited throughout in a classical continuity style to give a traditional sense of drama. Indeed, this may be Sissako’s most classically composed work.
May 20, 2014
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It’s a mightily defiant film, all the more powerful because Sissako isn’t issuing a tract: he uses grace, lyricism, visual imagination and sweetly dark irony to get his message across. It’s a very authoritative statement.
May 17, 2014
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If there exists in fact a soundtrack which looks to sublimate in a bucolic way that space of sand and dunes, Sissako realizes a film of distances and panoramic shots to give the film a quiet and soft spirit, precisely marked by the immensity of the desert, which allows to meditate on the sorrow and the certainty of the inevitability, where terrors are silenced or barely noticed.
May 15, 2014
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It is the individual set pieces that linger in the mind, while the film as a whole bursts with beauty and originality. It is worth saying that whatever is being outlawed in Timbuktu occurs on the sly, be it singing, football or forbidden love. Characters succumb to their disproportionate fates with none of the noise Western audiences associate with such tragedies. This makes their fleeting joys all the more potent.
May 15, 2014
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The urgency of the film settles into the community’s quagmire of waiting for the next transgression, the next punishment. A couple is buried to their neck and stoned to death and Sissako shows us neither crime nor judgment but just inhuman repercussion in his typical, simple staccato reveal. And each cut in the film feels like a small reveal, moving with a motivation for revelation. And what better way to start a festival than that?
May 15, 2014
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A brutal if mercifully brief scene of death by stoning is followed by a mysterious, lovely sequence of a man performing a silent ballet, perhaps redemptive or purificatory. This coup de cinema is as impressive and compelling as Kidane’s flight from a killing… Sissako understands both the world he’s lived in and cinema itself. His films have always been both memorably magical and supremely honest; this is no exception.
May 15, 2014
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It’s obvious that many of these mini-narratives aren’t going to end well, but Sissoko concentrates as much on beauty as he does on oppression; the jihadists immediately outlaw all music, for example, and a woman who defies this edict gets 80 lashes, but her whipping (unlike the grueling centerpiece of last year’s 12 Years A Slave) is ultimately less affecting than the lazy, gentle scene in which she sings on her own couch, accompanied by friends playing equally forbidden instruments.
May 15, 2014
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The movie, which opens with the image of a running antelope and closes with a harrowing shot of a running girl, is a mesmerizing mix of mood and tone that holds up an eerie mirror to the 300 or so Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the radical Islamist group Boko Haram.
May 15, 2014
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Beauty, Sissako implies, will endure, whether it’s in the defiant voice of a woman singing as she is whipped, or even the ornate geometry of handmade fishing nets reflected in the water. Such sensuality risks making the film an overly mannered exercise, an adornment of atrocity, but that’s far from the final effect. Rather, it’s the brightest details that seem least destructible as “Timbuktu’s” imprecisely linked stories gradually tighten into a city of sorrow.
May 14, 2014
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Bamako traversed into extremely didactic territory by taking on the World Bank and the G8, so while a critique of Jihadism and Islamism is easier to stomach, it is Sissako’s aesthetic shift that transcends this work. Instead of the documentary style from his previous outing, he resorts to something akin to slow cinema, letting the images and paradoxes speak for themselves.
May 14, 2014
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Don’t kill him—wear him down." Those are among the first words we hear in Abderrahmane Sissako’s devastating African drama Timbuktu, said by a group of gun-toting jihadists as they chase down a fleeing gazelle. The scene sets a chilling tone that’s impossible to shake: Terror, in this case, isn’t about killing the body, but the spirit. Wear an animal down and absolute control is assured.
May 14, 2014
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