Take a Drink: for arbitrary laws
Take a Drink: for megaphones
Take a Drink: for music
Take a Drink: for snappy rejoinders
Take a Drink: for motos
Do a Shot: for hypocrisy
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Because the world is an awful place, and nobody has to deal with more awful than Africa, you may have noticed that Muslim extremism and terrorist attacks are the new status quo over much of the continent. Most of it doesn’t have oil, or shipping lanes, or proximity to Israel, though, so…
Timbuktu tells this latest tragic story at a personal level. Sharia law has come to Timbuktu, and when a fisherman kills a cow tangled in his nets, the resulting dispute with its owner sets in motion the law’s inexorable wheels.
Malian director Abderrahmane Sissako is a known name in world cinema circles, but broke through with this Cannes and Oscar-recognized portrait of an all too feasible reality in his country. He uses slice of life vignettes interspersed throughout his main plot to demonstrate the realities of living underneath Sharia law, and in particular the ignorant way it is often applied. He presents the radical Muslims as a group of men motivated by outside influence (clearly foreign- Libyan? Saudi??), but unable to apply any logic to their own actions. What if the local mullah tells you that you can’t bring your weapons into the mosque, Jihad or no Jihad? How exactly do you deal with a soccer game being played without a ball (ball games, along with music and cigarettes and anything else fun being outlawed)?
Forget about bacon. Its powers don’t apply here.
Sissako peppers the beginning of the film with these humorous interludes, but they have teeth, showing the hypocrisy and ignorance and culture-eradicating aspect of radical Islam, how it weaponizes disaffected youth without educating them as to their purported cause,a nd how it clashes with and is devouring authentic Islam. As the main plot gets going, though, the observational humor gives way to a tightening noose as you realize its unavoidable march towards tragedy.
Going back to that soccer ball-less soccer scene- it demonstrates Sissako’s filmmaking mastery in a nutshell. He has an artist’s touch with pace and tone, and few films last year were lensed as beautifully, perhaps aided by the exotic, gorgeous locations.
Everything else about the film excepted… I kinda have to go there.
The acting is very natural and genuine as well, and a final nod goes to Sissako’s use of music and its absence to to drive home his themes.
Sissako assumes viewers have a lot of prior knowledge it’s unlikely you actually do (U.S. news sources sure as hell won’t help). How do all of these ethnicities interrelate, what are the points of conflict, and how do so many of these people speak so many languages? There’s an opportunity for education that Timbuktu largely bypasses, which is a bit disappointing.
In humanizing both the perpetrators and victims of the brand of radical Islam that is sweeping through Africa (and many parts of the world), Timbuktu compounds your empathy for the tragedies that inevitably bob in its wake.