DVD review: Timbuctoo - a human tale of fundamentalism's impact

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 July, 2015, 9:34pm

In lesser hands, this tale of how the arrival of Islamic fundamentalists affects a community might have strayed into pure vitriol, scaremongering or worse. But the pure genius in director Abderrahmane Sissako's lyrical production is that it presents the plain and the simple.

It is through the reality of altered everyday situations - often devastating in terms of how they affect the lives of ordinary citizens - that we come to question the sense of what we are witnessing.

A woman rails at having to wear gloves while she works with fresh fish - a rule that effectively renders her job impossible. Or a group of children, in one of the film's most stunning scenes, defy a ban on soccer by turning the game into some sort of ballet, pretending they are using a ball as they scurry up and down a dusty pitch.

The Islamists, too, are shown at times not to be beyond the simplest of human traits - discussing the relative merits of famous soccer stars, or sneaking off behind the sand dunes for a cigarette. But don't think for a moment that Sissako dismisses the savagery they bring with them: there's a stoning, a lashing and a sense of brooding violence wherever these interlopers move.

At the centre of it all is a man (Ibrahim Ahmed) resigned to his fate after a confrontation with a neighbour goes horribly wrong. When he leaves the scene of his crime, Sissako has his cameras drawn back from the site, as the man trudges homeward across a stunning landscape, almost as though he is walking towards the edge of the world, or of his life. He doesn't end up pleading for mercy - he accepts his fate - but he does ask to be treated like a human being.

And that's what will linger. Matters may have been taken from their control, but the people living on the fringes of Timbuktu presented to us by Sissako refuse to be anything less than completely human.

There is desperation throughout, and a sense of sadness. But there are flashes of humour and beauty, and ultimately a sense that the human spirit can prevail no matter what brutality it is faced with.

Extras: interview with the director

Timbuktu Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Abel Jafri Director: Abderrahmane Sissako