At this year’s Oscars Timbuktu was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category, where it ran up against heavyweights Leviathan and Ida. If we’d corrected for the Academy’s in-built bias towards the West, it might have won.
It may have missed out on the gong, but Timbuktu has instead scored its victory at the US box office, where it has quietly grossed $1 million. This is a great achievement for a film that is slow, reflective, devoid of stars and mostly performed in varieties of Tuareg and Mande. For we are in a town just outside Timbuktu, on the southern edge of the Sahara, that has recently fallen under the yoke of jihadist rule. We observe the local populace reluctantly submit to sharia law and try to come to terms with this new, alien presence in their lives.
The events of the story clearly draw inspiration from the brief occupation of northern Mali in 2012 by the militant group Ansar Dine. But nothing is made too explicit, and Timbuktu is no political polemic. It is perhaps the gentlest film about religious extremism ever made. Though it doesn’t spare us some of the grimmer details of jihad, it refuses to caricature the militants as Kalashnikov-wielding maniacs, and focuses instead on the softer casualties of religious extremism: music, leisure, the right of a society to self-expression.
Timbuktu film, director Abderrahmane Sissako
Timbuktu is a philosophical film, languidly paced and stunningly shot. Some will find it difficult, while others will relish its artistry. But there’s no doubt that it’s the work of a major talent. Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako is one of the few African directors whose work reaches the West – and while that is a terrible pity, it’s some comfort to know that at least we have him.
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
29 May 15 – 31 Jul 15, 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM
|Price||£ determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to go to Timbuktu's IMDB page.|