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Thursday, October 2, 2014


Ibrahim Ahmed aka Pino
Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

NYFF Review
2014, 97 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu is a timely film about the Islamic militant takeover of the Malian city of Timbuktu.  Told from the perspectives of the jihadists and the townspeople, Timbuktu is a memorable film filled with moments of great beauty.  I expected Timbuktu to be a tense, violent thriller, but it turned out to be a calm, occasionally funny ensemble drama with fantastic performances.

Sissako isn't interested in creating a film that is a forceful takedown of extremists.  Instead, he is interested in creating a portrait of a resilient little city and the strong characters who inhabit it.  Sissako gives the film a light sense of humor in the first half before changing tones in the second to give the film gravitas.  Sissako's decision to make Timbuktu an ensemble drama is is one of the film's greatest virtues and flaws.  Each and every character is colorful and watchable, yet the multiple perspectives make Timbuktu hard to connect to emotionally, as the ensemble nature of the film defocuses the narrative.  In some ways, I would've preferred this film to be more forceful, but in others, I believe Sissako's humane, loving treatment was the correct choice.

In one particularly memorable sequence, a group of children play soccer without a ball since soccer balls are forbidden according to the jihadists.  The sequence is beautifully photographed and subtly and humorously captures the resilience of these brave people.  After the screening, Sissako discussed how he wanted Timbuktu to be a testament to those who stand up to evil who are never mentioned in the news.  Again, while Timbuktu didn't completely engage me emotionally, I remember its characters vividly and remember their small acts of heroism, which counts for quite a lot considering how many films I've seen in the past few weeks.

Overall, Timbuktu is a flawed film, but one that I have no reservations about recommending.  This film's story is one that needs to be told, and with Sissako's sensitive treatment, it should connect with audiences around the world.


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