Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
France/Mauritania, 2014. Les Films du Worso, Dune Vision, Arches Films, Arte France Cinéma, Orange Studio, Canal+, Ciné+, Le Pacte, TV5 Monde, Centre National du Cinéma et de L’image Animée, Indéfilms 2. Screenplay by Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall. Cinematography by Sofian El Fani. Produced by Etienne Comar, Sylvie Pialat. Music by Amin Bouhafa. Production Design by Sebastian Birchler. Costume Design by Ami Sow. Film Editing by Nadia Ben Rachid. Academy Awards 2014. Cannes Film Festival 2014. New York Film Critics Awards 2015. Online Film Critics Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
Fundamentalist jihadists take over Mali in 2012 and their appearance in the desert city of Timbuktu has varying results, unified only by the brutal injustices meted out to all. A place where multiple backgrounds and languages live in general harmony with each other, the city’s equilibrium is thrown to the wind as new rules of dress and behavior make citizens angry: a woman objects to being forced to wear gloves to sell fish in the market, a group of people ignore the law against music and sing ballads inside their home, while a colorfully off-kilter woman wanders the streets with a rooster under her arm, happily ignoring the threat of armed men constantly in her way. The new law under which these people must live also involves Sharia law courts that become the focus of the film when a cattle herder living happily in isolation with his wife and daughter has a conflict with a fisherman that becomes deadly. Despite so dark a description, this is not a grim film overrun with trite melodrama but a lyrical examination of the harsh world it observes, its judgments muted and its dramatic conflict rendered with intelligence and a brutal grace; director Abderrahmane Sissako doesn’t need swelling music and manipulative close-ups to let us know that stoning people to death for the simplest of “crimes” is a world turned upside down. All performances are outstanding, many of the cast members non-professionals, the cinematography stunningly portraying a beautiful landscape being destroyed by small thinking and human cruelty.’