Timbuktu might be the best movie I’ve seen in a long while. It was one of the five 2015 foreign film nominees, the only African film, and the only film in which, it turns out, I actually know one of the actors— Kettly Noël, the brave funny mad woman. I know Kettly from the contemporary dance-theater world where she is also a star. She directs dance festivals and programs in Bamako, creates and co-creates dance-theatre works in which, as you might imagine if you’ve seen this film, she performs brilliantly. Kettly is not a personal friend so I was unaware of her role in Timbuktu until…until before my very eyes, she appeared—a gorgeous force of nature.
I have rediscovered foreign films and documentaries. So much better generally than anything we’ll experience at the regular multiplex. I’ve also rediscovered Albuquerque’s High Ridge Theater—only local home for foreign films. I know, I know, it’s been there all the time but I’ve been out of a movie-going routine. Now I Am Back. Thanks more than a little to Timbuktu.
There are numerous very fine reviews of Timbuktu. Uniformly glowing. I’ve become very nervous about excerpting much of anything on my blogs and in any case you should go to at least a couple of these websites so you can see some of the photos.
Please see this film. It makes some of the craziness of the current wave of extremism not exactly understandable but it does puts it in a real world context. Monsters one moment, seemingly normal human beings a moment earlier, maybe again a moment later. Or not. Jekyll and Hyde. Hitler loved his dog. The Hutu father killed his Tutsi daughter-in-law, the mother of his grandchildren. The Jihadist beheader grew up with a normal mom and dad in London or Jordan or Minneapolis. It’s enough to make us scared of ourselves—and we should be.
Variety Magazine:Jay Weissberg http://variety.com/2014/film/reviews/cannes-film-review-timbuktu-1201181839/ I’ve included just a bit of the review to give you a more professional version of what it is all about than mine.
In our Western-imperialist culture, ‘Timbuktu’ is slang for the outer fringe of East Bumfuck, but it’s the center of the world in Abderrahmane Sissako’s shattering Timbuktu — a center that cannot hold. The city is on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Mali with one foot in Islamic culture and the other in West African, and so the film has the rare distinction of being in six different languages: French, Arabic, Bambara, Songhay, Tamasheq, and English (the last employed in desperation when a character’s Arabic is too lousy to be understood). With all its colliding tongues and mores, the region is the perfect setting for farce — but in this case, tragic farce. There’s always tragedy when people have guns and are righteous about using them.
Sissako has set Timbuktu during the 2012 takeover of the city by religious jihadists, who announce via megaphone that Sharia is now in effect. That means public lashings for playing music. Or playing soccer. Or playing around. Or just, it seems, playing. Women accustomed to the colors (and plumes) of West Africa must cover every inch of flesh — which doesn’t sit well with a voluble fish seller, who throws a tantrum over having to wear gloves and is hauled away. (That’s nothing: Sarah Birke reports in the New York Review of Books that ISIS requires female surgeons to wear the full niqab and black gloves.) Some of the film’s jihadist soldiers are green and look confused by the disrespect and defiance. They don’t quite know what to do when a Muslim elder asks them to leave a mosque so that he and others can “pray in peace.” It’s clear that, without force, jihad just won’t take in Timbuktu.
You can intuit from the opening — Islamic soldiers firing from a jeep at a young gazelle — that there will be force and that it will be terrible. “
*This article appears in the January 26, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.