A contender for this year’s Palme d’Or, Sissako’s film about the havoc wrought by Islamic fundamentalists on his home country of Mali and in particular the city of Timbuktu could hardly have anticipated its contemporaneity. Beautifully and lovingly crafted with all the golden warmth and contemplative grandeur once associated with the mystique of Timbuktu, Sissako centres events on a herdsman’s family headed by Kidane (Ahmed) whose rage at the loss of a valuable cow leads to a killing for which Kidane is held to merciless account by the district’s new fundamentalist rulers. Far from depicting these as ideologically blinded, gun-touting fools, Sissako portrays them as quietly but disastrously errant: unaccustomed rulers whose pursuit of the bewildered local population takes place almost lightly and with occasional touches of humour as they chase men who still play music or football across dusty streets and mud-baked roofs, argue with the local imam or administer a death sentence. One scene of particular brutality is rendered almost soundlessly; you have to look twice to see it as a fitting metaphor for a new inability to communicate tolerance and tradition – and admire Sissako for choosing a quiet path to lament the white noise of dogma.
Timbuktu | Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako (France, Mauritania 2014) with Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri. Starts December 11
Originally published in issue #133, December 2014.