Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
NYFF ’14: Timbuktu
are the new racist imperialists. When Islamist jihadists overran large swaths
of Mali, they ravaged the centuries old World Cultural Heritage sites and
imposed a rigid yet arbitrary form of Sharia Law on the hitherto tolerant
Muslim population. The enormity of the resulting occupation is captured on a
personal, gut level in director-co-writer Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu (trailer here), Mauritania’s
first official foreign language Academy submission, which screens as a Main
Slate selection of the 52nd New York Film Festival.
the efforts of the local Imam, a man of good conscience, the occupying jihadists
enforce a severe brand of Islamic law. Music is prohibited, women’s dress must
be modest, and young girls are to be awarded to faithful enforcers, as if they
are simply another kind of plunder. Unfortunately, Sharia Law is quite a handy
tool for those bearing a grudge, like the widow of the fisherman Kidane
accidentally killed in an argument. Despite their increasing sympathy for the dedicated
husband and father, the ruling council will impose the unyieldingly harsh
judgment their religious ideology dictates.
it is not just Kidane who will suffer the Islamists’ wrath. Many residents who
always considered themselves good Muslims will face torturous sentences. Yet,
despite the outrages it vividly dramatizes, Timbuktu
is an eerily quiet film. In a sublimely beautiful, tragically brief episode, a
group of young Malians join together for a moment of musical respite. It ends
heartbreakingly badly, in a scene reminiscent of The Stoning of Soraya M.
only should Timbuktu be a contender
for the foreign language Oscar (given Sissako’s considerable international
reputation), it also deserves a look for Sofian El Fani’s unsettlingly gorgeous
cinematography. Frankly, Ibrahim Ahmed also deserves to be in contention for
his deeply humane, unflaggingly intense portrayal of Kidane, but that is
probably pushing it.
In many respects, Timbuktu is a true work of art, but it is also timely cinematic
journalism, exposing the Islamist crimes against man and culture that were
woefully under-reported in the western press. Sissako dramatically captures the
intolerance and arrogance that led to the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas by
their like-minded brethren. In all honesty, you almost need to watch Timbuktu twice, because the first
viewing is so overpowering. Fortuitously, Cohen Media Group will be releasing Timbuktu in the near future, following its
screenings tonight (10/1) at Alice Tully Hall and tomorrow (10/2) at the Gillman,
as part of this year’s NYFF.
Labels: Abderrahmane Sissako, NYFF '14