By Daniel Barnes
This Best Foreign Film Oscar nominee from Mauritanian director Sissako (Bamako) looks at life in an African city forcibly placed under the rule of a new but brutal jihadist regime.
Before your eyes glaze over and you start dreaming about Kingsman: The Secret Service, rest assured that Sissako cuts his searing social realism with significant doses of absurdist comedy and dreamlike beauty.
When a truck full of machine gun-toting jihadists drives into the town, installing themselves as overlords and instituting a repressive new set of laws, hardly anyone bats an eye. In Timbuktu,there is an impression that this city has seen more impressive “conquerors” than these pious hooligans.
But even as the jihadists are initially made to look foolish, hypocritical, and ineffective, with their every act of repression met by a reflexive act of artistic expression (the most beautiful moment: a soccer game played without the ball after the sport gets outlawed), there is a sinking feeling that this situation will inevitably explode into senseless violence.