Viennale 2014 – Day 2: Timbuktu

France/Mauritania 2014
Written by Abderrahmane Sissako & Kessen Tall
Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako

We watch movies for a multitude of reasons. To escape from reality, to be entertained, to be challenged, and so on. Another reason, at least for me, is that sometimes, movies can offer a window to another world. And when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean it in a Science Fiction-context, but rather: A different time, a different country, a different culture. It only occurred to me yesterday, on my way to the cinema, that this seems to be like a golden thread that many movies that I chose to watch at this years Viennale have in common. Case in point: “Timbuktu”.

“Timbuktu” casts a glance at the titular city, and the ramifications of its occupation by militant Islamic rebels. What threw me off a little in the beginning, was the almost humorous tone of certain scenes. Maybe it was just me, but some of the earlier scenes I really found funny (some of them in a dark kind of way). I have no idea if that was the intention, or if it was just my unwanted reaction to it, but that’s the way it is. It surprised me, because I expected to see a grim, dark, depressing movie, but at first, it isn’t, or at least it wasn’t for me. This also means that when things took a darker turn later, it was a weird shift of tone for me. Again, maybe that’s just due to my unintentional reaction in the beginning, but still, it irritated me a little. I also found it to be a little long in certain parts and/or scenes, like for example Kidane’s interrogation. And I didn’t get the ending: Why were the kids running around? Why didn’t they go with the woman from before?

Apart from that, “Timbuktu” was pretty much what I wanted from it: It offered a fascinating glance at a part of our world that I’ll probably never visit, and on the fears and dangers that go along with oppression, which I hopefully never will experience myself. There were many great quotes, like the question of the believer: “Where is Allah in all this?” Or two great statements from Satima: “If you don’t like what you see, stop looking” (while her hair is uncovered), or “He who hurts women is without God.” The landscapes were equally impressive. There were many great, beautiful shots, like the one with the lake, and the two people slowly getting out at different sides of it (to say more would mean to delve into spoiler-territory). And there were a couple of truly magnificent scenes. For example: When the jihadists declare that it’s forbidden to play soccer, and confiscate the ball, they simply start playing “fantasy football”, pretending to still play with a real soccer ball. That scene was pure movie magic.

Over the course of the movie it gets to those dark, uncomfortable places that I expected pretty much from the beginning. There are some truly disturbing scenes, like the public flogging, the stoning, or the execution at the end. It also doesn’t just tell one story, but is more of a kaleidoscope of different tales, sometimes even small vignettes. With a shorter running time and a less uneven tone, this could have been a masterpiece. But even in its current form and shape, it’s still a fascinating and haunting tale of oppression.


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