Timbuktu : A Film Review

Director, Abderrahmane Sissako,Cast, Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri, Toulou Kiki. Cert.12a. France/Mauritania. 1hr 37mins?

Whence comest thou?
Origins, our beginnings, are often referred to as African. This film is a of Country and way of life running to escape while having nowhere to run.
It is set in another Country overrun by militia. Dictated to by extremists.
Through landlocked Mali In the North and to the West in Africa runs the Niger. You can hear the Deduc playing in this former French Sudan.

It has been left in peace since 1960 to overcome its colonialism. The former territories and losses of culture were immense for this huge place. Yet the people have survived and many practices, of survival, remain.

The Deduc is a solemn softly spoken wind instrument which is my favourite of all musical instruments. It carries on the wind like a lute and cadences reverberate of the life of the player. It is mesmeric and haunting and so too this film will leave you.
The watchful waiting
We see the family of Tuareg herder Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), with his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) and child observe the herding of their 12 year old boy as he negotiates the river across from a fisherman tending to his nets.
A another child, a young daughter sits alongside and conversation is drawn delicately humanely out as basic enquiry amongst themselves. Like private conversation anywhere.
Timbuktu film and location is a carry through of modern political reality.
Music instinctively felt.
The likes of Salif Keita quiet small musician and highly provocative disturbing and soulful reflecting elder statesman of the wise heart of Africa is in, I would suspect deep mourning for what goes on in the land which broke free from the junket of African imperialism having realised his talent throughout the world bringing happiness and joy with a distinct and awesome voice for Africa. And yes he did speak for Mali. He brought its history back to bear on Europe and wider further afield. To Australia, where the aboriginals were clamouring for their history to be heard, he was there. He was amongst the oppressed in South Africa.

How he must dread the present divisions and needless hatred found in the Jihadist infiltration of the identity of Mali.

Music is seen as a target for the Islamic militants’ campaign in Mali. suppression of music, world renown artist, singer-songwriters Rokia Traore
sat on the Canne jury (2014). Fatoumata Diawara sings out in the heart of this film. It is a memory which figures recognisbly as fundamental to Director, Mauritanian, Abderrahmane Sissako’s wide visioned film.

I have stood in front of Salif as he sang. Not one person between myself and him. It was in an old Clapham Theatre revamped as a music venue and I have nothing to compare the notes he sang or the extreme powerful ness of his music. His voice sublime and his songs telling the tale of the otherness he felt. Without his music, the hearing perhaps there would be no seeing.
The commander of the jihadists is Abdelkerim (Abel Jafri) whose disturbing character creates a range forming a realism which is rooted in this time.

Abdelkerim’s negative values and portrayal is copper fastened in some scenes where his will is subjected to rebuke even to the sexual taunting of the landscape when shots are fired, initially at emblems, symbols of fertility then maram grass as fluffy pudena poking ridicule skyward.
Violent incidents
There are grossly violent acts repellent and compelling. Some hard to watch. One is the widescreen one take long form and then interspersed portrait frames of death painted on the river of a confrontation apart from the jihadist enclave. It is not ‘one take’ in the conventional sense but appears seamless in its gratuitous focus on violence.
A savage act nevertheless shown, due not through religious conflict, but as being a brother of all killing and acts of revenge and vengeance being wrought with dangerous authority within the cast of mankind.
Off the desert floor
Timbuktu is not even its capital but a focal point for its wilderness location.
It has a nomad seasonal population.
Population accord.
There is defiance at the heart of this and in the location a cinematic intrusion of what can only be described as a long view of what remains so complex and over contexturalised a subject; Western media show many outcomes and talks over emphasis differences that I ask do we have any point in considering it in this filmic media terminology.
The basics are drawn and not contested ground.
Humans behave so violently and with such incomprehensible vile hate.
Film reporting becomes an act which seems, along with watching the film a betrayal of something. A betrayal of values, of sacred life? A place of pompous safety?
This is no outback or long way from Tipperary but a moment in time Timbuktu is non-fictional. Yet here it is fictionaliased.
Show us
It is brave and necessary for us to allow the art of Cinema to encourage our growth of understanding. We are in the morass. Timbuktu is here amongst us.
Wider than a Continent
Further down is found Bamako where the Niger, Mande language that is used as a trade language in the upper Niger drainage basin in Africa where
a member of an agricultural, Mande-speaking people of Mali live in what could be termed simple elements given to their settlement.
All the languages associated with this part of Africa define its ancient co-habitable life style. Mande a branch of the Niger-Congo subfamily of languages, spoken in western Africa and including Mende, Malinke, Bambara, and Kpelle. Mandela, remember him. How shall we always remember him? By his many strands?
Political roots unreligious.
In Idlib, in Northern Syria will be found jihadists known as ‘Khorasan’, directors of the war on Christians and willfully outside of the Syria cause or leadership and they bring the Islamic fundamentalist genocide guidance to those they see as against the creed and doctrines as their motivation of access to rule and empowerment.
Fundamental losses
For this is fundamental; as fundamental as the Wests belief in War as a means to an end, they have held violence as part of their integral belief system. They can be followed or linked to the al-Qaida messages familar across the world. They commonality of the human oppressor is monochromatic.
Beyond Syria, foe it is not there lies there hope of their ends, countries such as Mali, the Nigerian Delta and Congo. So far away also Somalia. Eritrea. So similar the patterns. So evil the distinction of right and wrong without the word to renounce another’s freedom. No place like home.
The massacres are extensions of the pride in violence taken by our homegrown terrorists then multiplied and manifested in this few decades when the emerging youth took up their grievances and found human beings on which to inflict torture and extreme violence.
Heritage tracks
From here where the car bomb first became a weapon propaganda needs fed and techniques promoted and carried out are insular compulsions of these misled humans. They defile themselves and destroy life and it is response to an urge found through history yet not found related in essence to the will of the creator that we can overcome, have the capacity to do no harm.

The power they wield through their smaller groups such as al-Nusra, through guidance in Syria in Idlib as they provide the means for Syrian opposition forces to take on their chosen targets.

To the north or cities of Africa are spread the jihadist presence. Wherever a form of Muslim religion is in place and alongside other practiced religions century old, thousand years old human unity in one creator is swept aside and infiltrated as being against the concept of fellowship and all principles as found in the word of the teachings of the creator.

Those basic essences and intuit beliefs are fore saken in the cause of creating a world without love and without the prospect of the creators will.

The need to take part of the day in prayerfulness is shown strongly in this film as a basic human right. The infiltration of the mosques, temples are seen as a violation. On the one hand a defiant football match, outside looses the ball into the temple and both prayer and play is halted.

Outside as inside however the play and the prayer continue.

You will see this masterly dealt with, in another core direction within the film.

Mali is in this morass. The film we are seeing is based around a family of nomadic life attuned again to the daily provision of life forces however they arrive. The Niger is the figure of the films central narrative.

An ‘idilic’ form of scene is set at the start, of simple daily life, they a watchful family of herdspeople, to be interrupted by the filmic change and chase of a defenseless foe. The chase down of a small antelope whose tiredness is inflicted before the fall. So the ending comes in sight.


This is about a place we have heard of but not many know or have visited on the edge of the Sahara. There is no point or measure to be found by describing this film as breathtakingly beautiful, of political strength, of informative truth, of contemporary meaning, visionary staue, compellingly grotesque, hauntingly sorrowful. It offers no one answer to have us betoken some unattributable or comparative stake to. It is of itself a film like no other you are likely to see and if it is possible for you to be encouraged despite the content being of an fiction aliased account we will no doubt immediately compare to news footage or web information then so be it.

John Graham

3 June 2015


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