A film by Abderrahmane Sissako
2015 / Mauritania / 97 minutes
5.45 pm at Perks Mini Theater
Abderrahmane Sissako's passionate and visually beautiful film Timbuktu is a cry from the heart – with all the more moral authority for being expressed with such grace and such care. It is a portrait of the country of his childhood, the west African state of Mali, and in particular the city of Timbuktu, whose rich and humane traditions are being trampled by fanatical jihadis, often from outside the country.
The story revolves around the death of a cow, affectionately named "GPS" – an appropriate symbol for a country that has lost its way. A great deal of the film is focused on a family of cattle herders living in the dunes outside of Timbuktu, the paterfamilias of which, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), comes under jihadist judgment in the aftermath of a conflict with a local fisherman over the killing of a cow.
The new puritans appal the local imam, who has long upheld the existing traditions of a benevolent and tolerant Islam; they march into the mosque carrying arms. Timbuktu is no longer tombouctou la mysterieuse, the magical place of legend, but a harsh, grim, unforgiving place of bigotry and fear.
Abderrahmane Sissako confirms his status as one of the true humanists of recent cinema with this stunningly shot and deeply empathetic drama. In the hands of a master, indignation and tragedy can be rendered with clarity yet subtlety, setting hysteria aside for deeper, more richly shaded tones. Sissako is just such a master, and while previous films have showcased his skill at bringing magnetic dignity to his characters, “Timbuktu” confirms his status as one of the true humanists of recent cinema.
Abderrahmane Sissako was born in Kiffa, Mauritania, in 1961 and raised in Mali, his father’s homeland. When he returned to Mauritania in 1980, the emotional and financial difficulties of adjustment made him turn to literature and film. A study grant allowed him to attend the Institute of the University of Moscow. Le Jeu (1989), first presented as a graduation assignment, won the prize for best short at the Giornate del Cinema Africano of Perugia in 1991. In 1993, October was shown at Locarno and won prizes the world over. His film Waiting for Happiness was screened at Cannes 2002 and was winner of the FIPRESCI award for best film in the Un certain regard section.
Sissako is, along with Ousmane Sembène, Souleymane Cissé, Idrissa Ouedraogo and Djibril Diop Mambety, one of the few filmmakers from Sub-Saharan Africa to reach a measure of international influence. His 2014 film Timbuktu was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, garnered a 2015 Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, and swept the 2015 Cesar Awards in France winning seven awards, including Best Director and Best Film.