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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Timbuktu

** ½
France | Mauritania 2014
Starts December 11, 2014

Directed by: Abderrahmane Sissako
Writing credits: Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall
Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri
Length: 97 minutes

TimbuktuTimbuktu. The word conjures exotic, mysterious sensations, and is a metaphor in English dictionaries. The film however, falls short in delivering a cohesive storyline with its numerous vignettes about locals coping with a jihad coup. Juxtaposing urbanites with rural sand-dune dwellers, the oppression is relative. Islamic radicals, scarcely speaking the indigenous language, control with guns and censor. Now forbidden: music, smoking, playing soccer, dancing, etcetera. Women must wear gloves and nylons; men’s pants must be a certain length. Episodes include: repercussions from friends sharing a musical evening; an independent woman’s audacity; a devoted, goat herding family’s dilemma; a surly fisherman. Patrols regulate constantly, whether by foot, motor scooter, or truck. Ad hoc courts upholding the new jihadi laws hand out random, frequently gruesome verdicts.

Director Abderrahmane Sissako co-wrote the screenplay with Kessen Tall. Sofiane El Fani’s camerawork and Amine Bouhafa’s music is good. Confusing is Nadia Ben Rachid’s editing with futile back-and-forth – city, country – cuts, and inconsequential, randomly inserted shots. Sissako filmed in his native northern West Africa Mauritania rather than neighboring Mali for safety reasons: his location representing the capital city of the Timbuktu Region is ineffective, i.e. a mere town. Timbuktu provocatively looks at repercussions inhabitants endure when occupied by Islamic fundamentalist zealots, thus captures our attention with beguiling visuals and hypnotic ethnic music. One can appreciate these qualities. Even without understanding German subtitles that may be enough for many.  ()

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