Went to see Timbuktu at short notice yesterday at the MeetUp suggestion of the London Black Atheists.

Wonderfully understated and slow-paced, but beautifully shot, and ultimately we are left somewhat confused, with unresolved ambiguity. The history of today; we can’t yet know the outcome.


‘Timbuktu’ is a poignant and mesmerising film, a modern tragedy and defiant song of a nation in peril. Abderrahmane Sissako’s wonderfully human take on the fundamentalist occupation of Mali is not to be missed!


Abderrahmane Sissako is a world class film director & this is one of his best.


[Spoilers warning, if you’ve not seen it.]

There are so many cameos from characters not individually developed, that you suspect there must be a 4 hour director’s cut lying on the floor somewhere. And no heroic Hollywood ending despite the excellent cinematic qualities and no shortage of candidates for the starring role: The driver, the neighbour’s son / daughter’s friend. All of these put me in mind of A Thousand Splendid Suns though they never really progress beyond the opening scenes in their home village. Rather than a heroic epic we get a few days / weeks in the life.

I suspect there were more lines and scenes intended as gags than were actually elicited on the night, but with the impending brutalities preying on our thoughts, few of us were looking for laughs. There were for example, multilingual confusions creating some comically weak translations between characters and their interpreters and a running cell-phone gag, of “Your Arabic is very bad, please speak French / English / Tuareg / Local tribal language”. The only occasion actually creating the laughs being the Barça vs Real debate and the French connection with their world cup win relying on bribes to fellow FIFA members. Topical anywhere in the world.

The romantic idyll of village life could indeed have been anywhere in the world – normal people making a living, raising their kids – but with an ethnic melting pot of many different Africans and plot twists hanging on inter-personal misunderstandings. Actual location was Mauritania standing in for southern Mali but evocative of marginal desert life anywhere. The central family tragedy was itself a misunderstanding in the telling from son to father to neighbour – a handbags at sunset fight-scene ended by the accidental fatal shooting. Interestingly, a very benign take on Sharia – for which read “accepted local custom and practice” vs illiterate “word of god” usurped and voiced by the bad guy imposters. The vast majority of the local converts being unconvinced and reluctant in the incomprehensible inhumanity of their adopted mission. Most of the brutal acts were left largely to the imagination – I’ll not record any more spoilers – but enough terror in the insinuated threats and palpable fear to lead the viewer. More than enough in fact – the final scenes leaving us in fearful tension, but with hope eternal for the fates of the 12 year-olds running from the scene. History yet to happen and – the point of the film – a history we can therefore yet influence.

Several unresolved points in the editing – the western visitor with his personal medical supplies, the cloth-wrapped object (cell-phone?) in the wife’s hand as she dismounted from the pillion, and sufficiently threatening to the extremists that they fatally opened fire? Much is confusion.

But in all very effective. The scene that stole the show for me – the game of football without a ball. A snapshot of a much more complex tale, with many back-stories and possible futures. It is (not) written. Recommended.

[Post Note : Interesting this should turn up the following morning. And this too.]

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