Abderrahmane Sissako’s Timbuktu is a masterpiece

Abderrahmane Sissako is the most influential in a very short list of African filmmakers who have achieved noteworthy international repute. The 54 year old Mauritian born film director and producer has enjoyed unparalleled success in the African film industry.

Most of his works have been based in Mali and France. He has been active since 1990. In 1993, he wrote and directed “Oktyabr” before being cast in “Petite météorologie ou Sept histoires de temps” in 1995.
Sissako’s big break came in 1998 when he wrote, directed and acted in “La Vie Sur Terre” a Malian drama/comedy that bagged multiple awards.
His 2002 feature film ” Waiting for Happiness” earned a screening at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival’.
“Bamako” which came in 2005 won the Lumières Award for Best French-Language Film, FACE Award at the International Istanbul Film Festival and Audience Award at the Festival Paris Cinéma.
In 2008, he wrote and co-directed “8” and was also involved in the direction of “Stories on Human Rights”.

Then came “Timbuktu”. Having taken home the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and boasting of an Academy Award nomination, it is doubtlessly his most celebrated film of all time.
Sissako says that Timbuktu was motivated by actual events in Mali. He had hoped to shoot it there but the jihadists had bombed an area near the airport just a few days before the shooting and screening had to be moved to Mauritania.


It is a French-Mauritanian drama film that looks at the lives of the residents of the city of Timbuktu which has been taken over by jihadists. The main plot follows the story of a pastoralist living on the outskirts of the city with his wife and daughter. Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino) as he is called, accidentally shoots a fisherman in a confrontation. As stipulated by the codes of sharia law, Kidane is required to pay forty heads of cattle as compensation or face the death penalty.
Additionally, there are various outlying scenes that capture the cruelty of the sharia law and the hypocrisy of the people believed to be supervising and implementing it.
The jihadists rule with a heavy hand and some of the occurrences in the film are too painful to watch. In one such scene, a man and his wife are buried up to the neck and stoned to death because the jihadists do not consider their union as lawful. In another, a woman is sentenced to fortylashes for being alone with a man she is not related to. It does not go unnoticed that the man is not charged with anything.

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Some of the scenes are plain hilarious especially when the boys in the city play football with nonexistent balls because the jihadists have imposed a ban on sports. Even more comical is the fact that some of the jihadists spend their leisure time talking about their favourite teams in the same sport that they consider ungodly.
Sissako manages to depict the people’s plight and their helplessness in such situations. He also emphasises the fact that not all Muslims are sympathisers of jihad.
Timbuktu is without a doubt, a film to write home about.