Timbuktu is a 2014 Mauritanian-French drama film directed and co-written by Abderrahmane Sissako.
The film looks at the brief occupation of Timbuktu, Mali by Ansar Dine.
The film explores the denizens of the city of Timbuktu, Mali, in West Africa, who are living under strict sharia law around the year 2012. The city is under the occupation of extremist Islamists bearing a jihadist black flag. The dignified Kidane is a cattle herder who lives outside of the city. One day, one of his cows accidentally damages the net of a fisherman. The enraged fisherman kills the cow. Having armed himself with a pistol, Kidane confronts the fisherman and accidentally shoots him dead. The jihadists arrest Kidane and, per sharia law, offer to spare his life if the victim’s family forgive him and he pays diya (blood money) of 40 cattle. Kidane’s daughter corrals the cattle but no forgiveness is forthcoming so he is sentenced to death. His wife shows up at his execution and as they run to each other the executioners gun them down. Kidane’s daughter flees.
- Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino as Kidane.
- Toulou Kiki as Satima.
- Layla Walet Mohamed as Toya.
- Mehdi Ag Mohamed as Issan.
- Kettly Noel as Zabou.
- Abel Jafri as Abdelkerim.
- Hichem Yacoubi.
- Pino Desperado.
- Fatoumata Diawara as La Chanteuse.
- Omar Haidara as Amadou.
- Damien Ndjie as Abu Jaafar.
Throughout the film, there are subsidiary scenes showing the reaction of the population to the jihadists’ rule, which are portrayed as absurd. A female fishmonger must wear gloves even when selling fish. Music is banned; a woman is sentenced to 40 lashes for singing, and 40 lashes for being in the same room as a man not of her family. A couple are buried up to their necks in sand and stoned to death for adultery. Young men play football with an imaginary ball as sports are banned. A local imam tries to curb the jihadists’ excesses with sermons. A young woman is forced into marriage to a young jihadi with the blessing of the occupiers who cherrypick sharia in justification.
The film also acknowledges the failure of the occupiers to live up to their own rules. One of their leaders, Abdelkerim, is seen smoking a cigarette. At another point, he and a group of jihadists from France discuss their favorite football players.
Characters speak in Tamasheq, Bambara, Arabic, French, and on a few occasions English. The mobile phone is an important means of communication.
This fifth film of Sissako was inspired by the true story of a young, unmarried couple who were stoned by Islamists in the northern region of Mali that was known as Aguel’hoc. During the summer of 2012, the couple was taken to the centre of their village, placed in two holes that had been dug in the ground, and stoned to death in front of hundreds of witnesses.
According to the journalist Nicolas Beau, Sissako wanted to shoot a film on slavery in Mauritania, which was not acceptable to the country’s president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. Sissako then agreed to make a film on the jihadists, with the support of the Mauritanian government which supplied both financial and human resources.
It was filmed in Oualata, a town in south-east Mauritania.
Shortly before the opening of the film in Cannes in 2014, Sissako set off again to Timbuktu with a small team to add some scenes at the last minute.
The film won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2016, it was voted the 36th best film of the 21st century as picked by 177 film critics from around the world.
It was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. At Cannes, it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize.
Production & Filming Details
- Director(s): Abderrahmane Sissako.
- Producer(s): Sylvie Pialat and Etienne Comar.
- Writer(s): Abderrahmane Sissako and Kessen Tall.
- Music: Amine Yacoubi.
- Cinematography: Sofian El Fani.
- Editor(s): Nadia Ben Rachid.
- Production: Arte France Cinema, Canal+, Cine+, CNC, and TV5 Monde.
- Distributor(s): Cohen Media Group.
- Release Date: 15 May 2014 (Cannes International Film Festival) and 10 December 2014 (France).
- Running Time: 96 minutes.
- Rating: 12A.
- Country: France and Mauritania.
- Language: Hassaniya Arabic, English, French, Tamaasheq, and Bambara.