Timbuktu (2014 film)


Theatrical release poster
Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
Produced by Sylvie Pialat
Written by
  • Abderrahmane Sissako
  • Kessen Tall
Music by Amine Bouhafa
Cinematography Sofian El Fani
Edited by Nadia Ben Rachid
Distributed by Cohen Media Group
Release dates
  • 15 May 2014 (2014-05-15) (Cannes)
  • 10 December 2014 (2014-12-10) (France)
Running time
96 minutes[1]
  • France
  • Mauritania
Box office $10 million[3]

Timbuktu is a 2014 French-Mauritanian drama film directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. It was selected to compete for the Palme d'Or in the main competition section at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.[4][5][6] At Cannes, it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize.[7][8] It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards,[9][10] and has been nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Film Not in the English Language at the 69th British Academy Film Awards. It won Best Film at the 11th Africa Movie Academy Awards.[11]

The film looks at the brief occupation of Timbuktu, Mali by Ansar Dine. Parts of the film were influenced by a 2012 public stoning of an unmarried couple in Aguelhok.[12] It was shot in Oualata, a town in south-east Mauritania.[13]


The city of Timbuktu is under the occupation of extremist Islamists bearing a jihadist black flag. Kidane is a cattle herder who lives outside of the city. One day, one of his cows accidentally damages the net of a fisherman. The enraged fisherman kills the cow. Kidane confronts the fisherman and accidentally shoots him dead. The jihadists arrest Kidane and, per sharia law, demand a blood money payment of 40 cattle to the fisherman's family. As Kidane has only seven cattle, he is sentenced to death. His wife shows up at his execution with a pistol, and as they run to each other the husband attempts to stop her. The executioners gun them both down.

Throughout the film there are subsidiary scenes showing the reaction of the population to the jihadists' rule, which are portrayed as absurd. A female fishmonger must wear gloves even when selling fish. Music is banned; a woman is sentenced to 40 lashes for singing, and 40 lashes for being in the same room as a man not of her family. A couple are buried up to their necks in sand and stoned to death for adultery. Young men play football with an imaginary ball as sports are banned. A local imam tries to curb the jihadists' excesses with sermons.

The failure of the occupiers to live up to their own rules is hinted at, for instance when one of them is seen smoking a cigarette. Another group of jihadists from France spend their days talking about their favorite football teams.

Characters speak in Tamasheq, Bambara, Arabic, French, and on a few occasions English. The mobile phone is an important means of communication.



On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 99% approval rating and an average rating of 8.9/10 based on 105 reviews. The site consensus is "Gracefully assembled and ultimately disquieting, Timbuktu is a timely film with a powerful message."[14] It also received a score of 92 out of 100 on Metacritic, indicating "universal acclaim".[15] The film won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film[16] and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[17]

Jay Weissberg of Variety writes "In the hands of a master, indignation and tragedy can be rendered with clarity yet subtlety, setting hysteria aside for deeper, more richly shaded tones. Abderrahmane Sissako is just such a master."[18]

In a review for The Daily Telegraph, Tim Robey suggested it was a "wrenching tragic fable, Aesop-like in its moral clarity."[19] He went on to say it was "full of life, irony, poetry and bitter unfairness."[19]

In the Financial Times, Nigel Andrews called it "skilful, sardonic, honourably humane."[20]

Reviewing it for The Guardian, Jonathan Romney called it, "witty, beautiful and even, sobering though it is, highly entertaining" as well as "mischievous and imaginative."[21] He concluded that it was "a formidable statement of resistance."[21]

Sight & Sound's Nick Pinkerton says "The fact remains that there are few filmmakers alive today wearing a mantle of moral authority comparable to that which Sissako has taken upon himself, and if his film has been met with an extraordinary amount of acclaim, it is because he manages to wear this mantle lightly, and has not confused drubbing an audience with messages with profundity. I can’t imagine the film having been made any other way, by anyone else – and this is one measure of greatness."[22]

According to both Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, Timbuktu is the best reviewed foreign-language film of 2015.[23][24]

See also


  1. "Timbuktu (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 13 March 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  2. "Timbuktu". TIFF. Retrieved 18 September 2014.
  3. "Timbuktu (2015)". jpbox-office. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  4. "2014 Official Selection". Cannes. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  5. "Films By Abderrahmane Sissako & Philippe Lacôte Are Cannes 2014 Official Selections". IndieWire. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  6. Vincent Dowd (20 May 2014). "Timbuktu film at Cannes mixes tragedy, charm and humour". BBC News. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  7. "'Winter Sleep', 'Jauja', 'Love at First Fight' Take Cannes Fipresci Prizes". Variety. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  8. ""Timbuktu", prix du Jury oecuménique et prix François-Chalais". Le Parisien. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
  9. "Abderrahmane Sissako's 'Timbuktu' Is Mauritania's Best Foreign Language 2015 Oscar Competition Entry". Indiewire. Retrieved 8 September 2014.
  10. "Oscar Nominations 2015: See The Full List". Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 January 2015.
  11. "AMAA 2015: Full list of WINNERS". Retrieved 28 April 2016.
  12. "Timbuktu". New Zealand International FIlm Festival. Retrieved 18 July 2014.
  13. "Mauritanians delighted with Timbuktu Oscar nomination". aawsat. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  14. "Timbuktu". 28 January 2015. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  15. "Timbuktu". Metacritic.
  16. "Awards - New York Film Critics Circle - NYFCC". Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  17. "National Society of Film Critics". National Society of Film Critics. Retrieved 8 January 2016.
  18. "Advertisement". Variety. Retrieved 21 October 2014.
  19. 1 2 Tim Robey, Timbuktu review: 'a brutal Sharia law fable', The Daily Telegraph, 28 May 2015
  20. Nigel Andrews, , Financial Times, 28 May 2015
  21. 1 2 Jonathan Romney, Timbuktu review – defiant song of a nation in peril, The Observer, 31 May 2015
  22. Pinkerton, Nick (28 May 2015). "Film of the week: Timbuktu". Sight & Sound.
  23. "The Best Movies of 2015". Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  24. Jester McGree (2015-12-16). "Best Foreign Language Movie 2015 << Movie & TV News and Interviews – Rotten Tomatoes". Editorial.rottentomatoes.com. Retrieved 2016-10-28.

External links

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