Timbuktu (4 stars)


Heartbreaking and topical African drama from director Abderrahmane Sissako

There could hardly be a more relevant film than the Oscar-nominated Timbuktu. Inspired by events in northern Mali in 2012, it follows the imposition of a brutal jihad in which traditions are ignored, communities are torn apart and individuals pay a shocking price for defying their trigger-happy new masters. It could have all the righteous, jittery agitation of a tale torn from recent headlines and yet director Abderrahmane Sissako (Waiting for Happiness, Bamako) opts for a calmer, more measured approach that makes his film all the more heartbreaking.

An area populated by farmers, fishermen and nomads and defined by a sense of harmonious co-existence is suddenly a land where the gun rules and dogma is ruthlessly enforced. Smoking is forbidden. Music is forbidden. Football is forbidden. Women who do not cover up are sinful. The list is endless and infringement is mercilessly punished with a public flogging or stoning. 'Where is the leniency? Where is forgiveness?' asks the local imam (Adel Mahmoud Cherif).

Farmer Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) and his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) live with their children in the desert and feel far from the madness around them. They are urged to flee but choose to remain and pay a terrible price as events ultimately place them in the heart of this nightmare.

Cinematographer Sofian El Fani ensures that Timbuktu is a stunningly beautiful and precisely composed film, with sensitive camerawork that never feels exploitative or voyeuristic. It is a film suffused with compassion as it celebrates the inner strength and quiet defiance of individuals at the mercy of a world where a shared humanity becomes the first casualty when intolerance and hatred take hold.

Selected release from Fri 29 May.


  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • France / Mauritania
  • 1h 37min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Abderrahmane Sissako
  • Cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, Toulou Kiki, Adel Mahmoud Cherif, Salem Dendou
  • UK release: 29 May 2015

When northern Mali is occupied by Islamists who ignore local tradition and rule with the gun, farmer Kidane (Ahmed) and his wife Satima (Kiki) pay a terrible price for not fleeing. Heartbreaking and topical African drama with a calm, measured approach, suffused with compassion for those at the mercy of the intolerant.