Named after the Malian city Timbuku, the city that once was the centre of intercontinental communication and trade, the film of the same name is part based on true story and part fictional story about a settlement in Mali forced to adapt to strict Sharia law.
With all the recent events happening all over world over the past decade, particularly the last few years which coincided with the rise of ISIS, a film like Timbuktu has never been more timely. An often heard statement is that moderate Muslims should do more to distance themselves from the threat of ISIS, whilst not a racist statement as such it still displays a stunning level of ignorance as moderate Muslims defy ISIS every single day, and in the case of Timbuktu, it is often women who defy the freedom stricting laws of the jihadists.
Director Abderrahmane Sissako makes it clear that the people most affected by the rise of ISIS is not anyone in the Western World but Muslims living in the part of the world where the threat of ISIS is a daily issue to be faced. The most important thing, however, is the fact that the film not only humanises and sympathises with the victims of the jihadists but the jihadists themselves. The jihadists are presented not just as blood thirsty murderers but a confused bunch who also do not follow the strict Sharia code they try to enforce. They are often seen smoking or discussing football both of which are banned, there's a funny scene where young men are playing football with an imaginary football, an act of ironic defiance. The surrealness of the scene is similar to the imaginary tennis game in Blow-up.
Unlike many Western films that discuss a similar subject, Timbuktu is an understated film but still loses none of its power as shots of death and punishment by whipping do linger uncomfortably long. However, despite the dark nature of the film it one that is beautifully shot (one panoramic shot of the river in which a farmer staggers across the river after killing a fisherman is spectacular). Timbuktu is a slow and understated but touching film about strong characters, particularly strong women, who all defy those trying to dictate how one should worship their god.