Timbuktu is a dramatized pastiche of stories telling how the Jihadists changed everyday life when they arrived in that area of Mali in Africa. The judge, Abdelkerim (Jafri), travels on a motorcycle or a truck with his translator in tow announcing on a bull horn new rules the citizens must follow in keeping with Sharia law, such as: no smoking, no football, and no music, and women must cover their heads, hands, and feet. The citizens don’t like this, of course, and openly resist, only finding out later that they will suffer punishment that is often extreme.
All of the examples are heartbreaking, but one is highlighted to show the complexities of the law interacting with real people. Kidane (Ahmed) is a humble businessman who lives in a tent in the sand with his wife and daughter whom he adores. He has also taken under his wing the male child of a friend, a rebel who was killed fighting for a cause. Kidane has Issan care for his herd of nine cows, one of which—named GPS—is special because she is pregnant. Kidane plans with his wife’s encouragement to give that cow and the herd to Issan, the boy. This establishes his noble intentions, which are in stark contrast with the petty “rules” of Abdelkerim.
Kidane is not your stereotypical Muslim; he is respectful of his wife and values her advice, and he adores his daughter (God has not blessed him with a son, but this girl is the light of his life). His wife wants to leave the area as many of their friends and neighbors have, but he remains optimistic that the current situation is temporary and that eventually all their friends will return. He then chides her a bit about missing her female friends, which she does not deny. (This interaction was a poignant reminder of what the Jews experienced when Hitler was coming into power. Some bolted the country as soon as they could, while others hoped that everything would work itself out.)
Unfortunately, Kidane’s cows must drink from the river where Amadou the fisherman has his nets. Amadou worries when the cows get close to his nets, and one day takes matters into his own hands. This is a huge insult to Kidane, who, with his wife’s blessing, goes to talk to Amadou. He tells his wife where he is going, and heads out. Ominously, he says, “And you know what I haven’t told you.” After this, we get a good picture of how Sharia Law works—basically the accused has to plead his case with the judge, and the judge metes out whatever punishment he thinks is deserved.
After all the crosscutting back and forth between the stories, the writer/director Abderrhmane Sissako, presents an account of the outcome for each one. It is a brilliant exposé of Sharia Law and how it works, the depersonalization it involves, and probably most importantly, the absence of humanitarian reasoning in its considerations. So telling is a slight misgiving on the part of Abdelkerim about Kidane’s daughter, which he expresses to his translator, but tells him not to reveal what he says to Kidane.
Timbuktu is a story well worth telling, with Sofiane El Fani’s cinematography lending beauty and anguish to this well designed film. I am glad it received an Academy Awards nomination for Best Foreign Picture.
An exotically filmed picture chronicaling the horrors brought by the Jihadists to Timbuktu.
Grade: A By Donna R. Copeland