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One of the movies that's still in the running for a "Best Foreign Language Film" Oscar nomination, is Timbuktu. Together with the Estonian Mandariinid it's one of my favorites for this year's Academy Awards, but I'm afraid only one of them will make it to the shortlist and neither of them will eventually win the Oscar. Not while movies like Ida, Turist and Leviathan are their competitors (although I think Timbuktu and Mandariinid are better than those three). The thing about Timbuktu that makes it such a beautiful picture, is its, what I presume, authentic representation of Muslims and the different views on Islamic religion. Spoken in a number of languages, from French and English to Arabic and a wide diversity of African languages (Tamasheq, Bambara and Songhay), Timbuktu shows Westerners a part of the world we almost know nothing about. Apart from judgemental and arrogant claims about the (religious) backwardness of many people there, be they Berber or Bedouin, many people here just don't know what to say about the Northern part of Africa. Director Abderrahmane Sissako gives us lots of stuff to talk and think about (for example the use of "jihad" as on the one hand an inner struggle (the greater jihad) and on the other hand an external holy war which is fought by mujahideen - the second jihad being the one we fear and loathe so much in the West). Not only that, but together with his cinematographer Sofian El Fani (La Vie d'Adèle) he manages to provide us with wonderful visual poetry and exceptional sceneries of south-east Mauritania. While it took some getting used to the narrative and the editing, I was full of awe after enjoying this utterly majestic work of art. Highly recommended!
Timbuktu delves into recent history, Jihadists' momentary takeover of several towns in northern Mali, painting the portrait of a way of life under siege. The way Islam spread during the Ottoman Empire was not to force religion on anyone, but through eventual assimilation, and that led to the faith being practiced in slightly different ways from region to region. The Jihadists, of course, take another way, and try to snuff a rich culture, part Islamic, part one of Africa's most ancient cultures. This background story is told through images and examples, with a large cast, central to which is a shepherd living outside the city, who nevertheless must know injustice and tragedy at the new regime's hands. A striking film because regardless of which branch of Islam the characters adhere to, they are, first and foremost, people. Find an indictment of extremism in it if you like, but the film is much more interested in the destructive clash of cultures than the atrocities mostly happening off-stage.
Great film about religion and the risks of fanaticism. This film must be watched by all decent and peaceful muslims who should take a stand against the criminals that have hijacked their religion, and should also be aware of the dangers of a literal and angry interpretation of the Koran. Interestingly, this film was produced before the rise of ISIS in Iraq, so as they say, Truth is stranger than fiction.
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In 7 official lists
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This movie ranks #36 in BBC's The 21st Century's 100 Greatest Films
This movie ranks #41 in César Award - Best French Film
This movie ranks #47 in Slate's The Black Film Canon
This movie ranks #94 in Arts & Faith's Top 100 Films
This movie ranks #219 in TSPDT's 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films
This movie ranks #299 in Academy Award - Best International Feature Film Nominees
This movie ranks #890 in The New York Times's Book of Movies