Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Timbuktu" depicts life under strict Islam in Africa

Timbuktu”, written and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, is practically a docudrama about village and rural life under strict Islam, set in Mauritania (the city itself is in nearby Mali).
A desert village has gradually come under control of strictest possible Islam with Sharia law, with all kinds of rules that are demonstrated in the film.  Men have to roll up their pants, women have to wear gloves; no music is allowed, no smoking (that one I like).  In fact, a visiting jihadist wants to increase control, and is chided by a local imam for bringing a weapon into a mosque during prayers.
Meanwhile, cattle herder Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) and his wife (Toulou Kiki) live in relative, almost libertarian freedom, as nomads in the nearby country, in rather well equipped yurts.  His life is disturbed when one of his cows gets caught in a fisherman’s net, and the fisherman spears it.  That scene is quite remarkable (the film had to go to lengths not to harm animals).  Kidane threatens the fisherman and somewhat accidentally shoots him.  The long shots of the pond that follow.
The wheels of Sharia justice follow, and they are quite deliberate.  Kidane knows what will happen to him.  His daughter will be orphaned.  The informality of the court is rather unsettling. So is a preparatory scene of a stoning.
The film, distributed in the US by Cohen Media Group, is getting limited screenings.  In the DC area, it was moved up and is now shown at Landmark Bethesda Row, where I saw it today, before a large crowd.  The film is nominated for best foreign language film (French, Arabic, and various African languages).
There is something about the desire for righteousness and moral perfection (as Islam is shown here) that is arresting.  It seems critical in a small tribal community to hold everyone to strict standards of personal behavior (“submission”) so that the tribe can survive in a world of challenges and enemies.  
The psychology of it is rather military.  At the same time it also defends people from having to express any real emotion for those who waver.  Intolerance serves its own ends.  But freedom requires openness to unwelcome emotions.
Wikipedia attribution link for typical Mauritania scenery by Eammneul Brunner, Creative Commons 2.5 Share-Alike license  This resembles the scenery in this wide screen film.  

Update: March 7

News reports indicate that the real Timbuktu and surrounding area in Mali has become a "no-go" area because of Boko Haram and other extremist insurgents, despite the presence of French troops near the city, 

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