By William Wolf

NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL 2014--TIMBUKTU  Send This Review to a Friend

In a symbolic opening, Abderrahmane Sissako’s film starts out with a car chasing a gazelle, killed by shots fired. The film, shown at the 2014 New York Film Festival, is set in Timbuktu, northern Mali, in 2012 after a takeover by fundamentalists. The story proceeds with relative serenity as the militants go about demanding that people follow sharia. Their actions almost border on comedy, as they babble about rules against listening to music or participating in sports, and issue orders for strict dress code for women, including having their hands covered, and other extremes.

But as we meet others in the village, including a kindly husband and wife (played sensitively by Ibrahim Ahmed and Toulou Kiki) and their daughter, foreboding sets in as step by step the atmosphere grows more lethal and the story builds into events that reveal the full means of oppression by petty autocrats who constitute the so-called tribunals dispensing what they call justice. They make life-determining decisions, whether involving stoning or other forms of execution.

By the time we have witnessed the shocking inhumanity, the drama, which achieves documentary-like reality, leaves a sickening impression of the horrors committed. Such acts contrast sharply with the stunning cinematography by Sofiane El Fani. One is left with a morality tale involving those who commit to resistance of the terror that is echoed in so many other places. A Cohen Media Group release. Reviewed October 17, 2014.

  

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