A simple but highly effective plea for serenity
Is it worth $10? Yes
Placid desert vistas are interrupted by the unmistakable sound of automatic gunfire in the opening scene of Abderrahmane Sissako's Oscar-nominated drama "Timbuktu." Tellingly, an ISIS-type gang in a pickup truck tracks a sprinting gazelle. "Don't kill it, tire it," shouts one of the malefactors.
To Americans on the east coast, desert lands such as the Mali surrounding Timbuktu look almost otherworldly. Note the similarities to the landscapes of Tatooine, Skywalker's home planet in "Star Wars" (1977). That what you see in this film and, say, in a Wal-Mart in New Jersey, exist on the same planet seems doubtful, yet the riddle of our time is how to prevent disparities from become hostilities.
The militia's attempts to install sharia in the West African city are mild, even comically pitiful--at first. They're a rough and ready bunch: the motorbike, the rifle, the megaphone. Instead of the familiar aghast feeling--considering the subject matter, the film has relatively little violence--Sissako provides intermittent laughter at the expense of the egomaniacal, thuggish frauds under their primitive black flags. It's good to see the deeply conflicted, middle-aged Abdelkrim, for example, struggling as he learns to drive a stickshift pickup. You also see how most of the victims in this multinational power-grab are Muslim, many of them peaceful herdsmen or fishermen.
"I do jihad on myself. I swear I don't have time for other people's jihad," says a town elder, describing his daily inner struggle (jihad) for greater spirituality. The AK-47-carrying militant encroaching on the mosque seems perplexed by the calm demeanor and wise words of the local man who has, nonetheless, just dispatched of him. The older man has one more parting challenge for the coercer: "Remember the words of Allah the Almighty: 'So pardon them. Once you've made a decision, put your trust in Allah, for He loves those who rely upon him.'" And the few words of the spiritual man say more than endless legions of television pundits.