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Film / Timbuktu

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Timbuktu is a 2014 film from Mauritania, directed and co-written by Abderrahmane Sissako.

It is Inspired by… the Real Life takeover of Timbuktu—which, yes, is a real place, in the country of Mali—by the Ansar Dine jihadist group. The film opens with Ansar Dine having just laid claim to Timbuktu. Their fundamentalist regime, prohibiting everything from music to soccer, marks a stark contrast against the moderate lifestyle that the villagers have enjoyed. The local imam struggles to negotiate with the jihadis' leader to win some concessions from their occupiers.

Meanwhile, Kidare, a nomadic herdsman camped outside of Timbuktu, is not at first affected by these events. His more cautious wife Satima thinks that they should get out right away, but Kidare doesn't want to run, and they stay put. Ansar Dine's sharia law crackdown in the city gradually grows more and more brutal and violent, but life goes on more or less as normal for Kidare, Satima, their daughter Toya, and their adopted son Issan. That is, until a tragic occurrence that ironically isn't caused by the jihadists gets Kidare into terrible trouble.



  • Blood from the Mouth: Blood from the nose, in the case of a cow killed by Amadou the fisherman.
  • Call-Back: When Toya and Issan are fleeing from the jihadists at the end, there's a quick cut back to the gazelle the jihadists were chasing at the beginning.
  • Day of the Jackboot: The jihadists arrive in Timbuktu and impose an iron-fisted sharia code.
  • Determined Homesteader: Well, determined nomad, but Kidare refuses to leave like all the other nomads of the region have. It's a mistake.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first shot shows all the jihadists acting like goons, racing across the desert in a jeep, chasing a gazelle. The next shot shows them shooting up some old statues. Their special brand of stupid evil is well established.
  • For the Evulz: Really the only reason why Abdelkrim shot up a lone bush in the desert.
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  • The Fundamentalist: Oh boy, the jihadists of Ansar Dine, who whip people for singing.
  • Gun Struggle: Kidane makes a terrible mistake in bringing a gun to his confrontation with Amadou. They brawl, and Amadou winds up getting shot.
  • Hypocrite: The jihadists banned soccer, but Abdelkrim and his buddies are huge soccer fans and like to talk about Lionel Messi and Barcelona and Real Madrid. The jihadists ban smoking and drinking, but Abdelkrim smokes.
    • In addition, any viewer who can understand French can tell that the jihadists creating propaganda videos about the evils of the west are themselves born and raised in France, judging by their accents.
  • Moral Guardians: A particularly nightmarish version of this in the form of the jihadists, who roll in and ban everything they deem sinful, with savage punishments for infractions of sharia law.
  • The Oner: A staggering long shot after Kidane accidentally shoots Amadou. A shot from high and far away captures the whole river, the horizon, and the setting sun. Two little dots are seen in the river, Kidane wading off to the left bank, while Amadou tries to stagger to his feet on the right bank. Eventually Kidane makes the shore while Amadou collapses in death. The camera never moves.
  • Pet the Dog: All in all, Abdelkrim is a pretty bad guy, seeing as how he has people stoned to death and lets his minions kidnap pretty girls into forced marriages. But he has an obvious crush on Satima, so when Kidane gets into big trouble, he tries to get Amadou's family to accept a "blood money" payment of 40 cows instead of executing Kidane.
  • The Place: Timbuktu. It's a real town!
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Omar, Abdelkrim's interpreter (the jihadists speak Arabic, not the local language Tamasheq spoken by the Tuareg nomadic herders), who seems pretty mild-mannered and occasionally tries to discourage Abdelkrim's excesses.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The local imam is moderate and tries to act as an intermediary between the town and the jihadists, asking for leniency and fair treatment for the townsfolk as tactfully as he can to avoid offense. The jihadists treat him with respect but largely ignore his pleas.
  • Sand Necktie: A pretty horrifying variant. A man and a woman are buried up to their necks in sand. Then they're stoned to death, for adultery.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!:
    • One particularly gross jihadist ask a girl's mother if he can marry the girl. When the mother says no, he says he'll come back "in a bad way", and he later takes the girl by force. When the imam goes to the jihadists and explains how this is a violation of custom—taking the girl without her consent or her mother's consent, without even bothering to ask her male guardian—the jihadists give a long winded explanation that basically boils down to 1) they're in charge, 2) the man is "pious" and so deserves a wife, and 3) they decide what's holy and lawful, so tough luck.
    • Ansar Dine ban things like smoking and soccer while indulging in soccer discussions and smoking themselves.
  • A Taste of the Lash: One of the most incredible scenes of the movie shows a woman, being flogged for singing, singing another song as she is flogged.