By Mónica Delgado

Getting away somewhat from the slope of African cinema in the style of Ousmane Sembene, appealing less to the ritual matter or social aspect between hierarchies in a same community, Timbuktu explores the invasion of the Islamic police in a little town of the deserts of Mauritania, in an abrupt cultural and moral clash that is narrated with a keen and denouncing eye. This fiction by Abderahmne Sissako has a clear purpose: to show the limitations under the oppression of fundamentalism, that leaves a part of Africa without identity: no songs, no dances, a place in crisis, without resistance. And the Mauritian filmmaker does so though different characters in the Timbuktu desert, between Islamic and Africans, under the sonority of English, French, and Arab, and from the cultural barriers that paradoxically, are blurring the frontiers of this continent.

Sissako starts the film with a metonymic about hunting, which in the end is what feeds Islamism, which is constantly hunting all minimal actions that evidence a betrayal to the “system” to then punish or kill. But it also stops in a paradigmatic scene, the death of culture, from a shooting to some wooden idols that later would evidence the end of imagination and distraction. After that, Sissako approaches us to the intimacy of a family living in the town surroundings, living from cattle, and owning an Ox called GPS. This name becomes the motif for the relationship of this family with the technology, despite the dryness of the desert: fundamentalists and subdue people, as if technology was a new god, making them all equal.

Doing that, Timbuktu develops a series of little histories with care of the details, with kids, mothers, daughters, neighbors, which link with each other according the “crimes” they commit. In times, it seems like the filmmaker is driven by compassion for the evil doers (like the scene where one watches the Islam members dancing), but then it turns to showing a series of punishments, like the lapidating or whippings, taken from a theater of horror, and also affirming this notion of Manicheism that rules all religions.

If there exists in fact a soundtrack which looks to sublimate in a bucolic way that space of sand and dunes, Sissako realizes a film of distances and panoramic shots to give the film a quiet and soft spirit, precisely marked by the immensity of the desert, which allows to meditate on the sorrow and the certainty of the inevitability, where terrors are silenced or barely noticed.

Director: Abderrahmane Sissako
Script: Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall
Cinematography: Sofian El Fani
Cast: Abel Jafri, Hichem Yacoubi, Kettly Noël, Pino Desperado, Toulou Kiki
100 min.