This week I saw a remarkable foreign film that deserves your attention.
On Blu-ray: Timbuktu
If you’re like me, you often wonder if all of the foreign films nominated for an Oscar will actually turn up in a venue or platform accessible to you. “Timbuktu,” which was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film this year, is now on DVD and Blu-ray and it’s a beautiful and disturbing film.
Director and co-writer Abderrahmane Sissako used the Islamist extremist occupation of the legendary city in Mali as the basis for a very human drama. In the hands of a conventional filmmaker the same story would have been undoubtedly staged with more graphic violence, a dramatic musical score and edited for maximum emotional impact. Sissako instead wisely adapts a far more naturalistic tone, which actually makes the moments of drama stand out.
The city has been taken over by Islamist extremists who have imposed fundamental rule over the people. Women must wear veils, socks and gloves. There is no alcohol use, no smoking, no music and no soccer. If a man of the invading force wants a woman, he is allowed to marry her by force.
Punishment is swift and brutal. One couple is stoned for their crimes, while another woman receives a whipping.
The local cleric is steadfast in his arguments against how the extremists are interpreting the Muslim religion, but to little avail.
In the dunes outside the city little has changed. Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) and his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) mind their cattle. He is a devoted family man who adores his daughter and expresses hope the time of the occupation will pass.
When one of his cattle gets caught up in the fishing nets of a neighbor in the river, Kidane’s life changes.
This film starts off slowly. Sissako wants to establish a mood of a place where, in many, ways lifestyles have remained constant for centuries. Against this backdrop, the actions of the invaders can seem almost comical. They walk through the town announcing on a bullhorn all the rules people must obey. They travel though the town at night listening for any music. A bouncing soccer ball through a passageway appears to be a rebellious statement.
There is no armed resistance against the extremists and the people, though clearly angry, seem to be willing to put their faith in God concerning their fate.
There is a great scene in the movie in which a group of young men play a game of soccer with an imaginary ball. Having the ball would be a crime, so they run up and down the field kicking a ball that exists only in their minds. When the extremists come they pretend to be exercising.
For many people, the name “Timbuktu” stands for something exotic and mysterious. In this film, the mystery that unfolds is the depth and strength of the human spirit.