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Timbuktu, a 2014 film by Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, is an absolutely captivating movie that brilliantly taps into the theme of humanity amidst the harsh and rigorous enforcement of religious extremism. It stars Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri, and Toulou Kiki, each delivering performances that capture the nuanced emotions of their respective characters.

Set in the ancient city of Timbuktu, Mali, in West Africa, the movie presents the horrifying realities of militant Islamists' occupation. The city, once a vibrant multicultural hub filled with music, laughter, intermingling languages, and even football, is abruptly transformed into an oppressive dystopia. The movie explores the tension between fundamentalist religious ideology and the diverse cultures and ways of life that existed in the community prior to the militant takeover.

The film's narrative primarily revolves around the story of Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), a peaceful cattle herder, who lives with his wife, Satima (Toulou Kiki), their daughter Toya, and an orphaned shepherd boy, Issan. They live a serene and idyllic life in the dunes, distant from the chaos and insanity of the city. However, their tranquil life takes a distressing turn when Kidane confronts a fisherman who kills one of his most prized cows, GPS. This altercation sets in motion a chain of events that bring the full brunt of the militant regime's harsh judgments onto the family.

In the city itself, the film depicts the militants’ perplexing imposition of sharia law, marked by constant contradictions and a series of irrational, devastating prohibitions – music, laughter, soccer, smoking, even the manner in which women wear their gloves, are banned. All of these regulations are imposed with the threat of punishment that ranges from public flogging to stoning.

Nevertheless, there’s an undercurrent of quiet rebellion pulsating within the oppressed city. The football-loving youth continue their game only without the ball, as a symbolic defiance. A woman, intentionally not wearing gloves, sings a song of sorrow and protests while she’s being flogged by the militants.

Abel Jafri plays the character of Abdelkerim, a Jihadi leader who ironically is also filled with flaws and contradictions. He sneaks cigarettes while enforcing a smoking ban and flirts with Satima, regardless of his strict interpretations of Islamic codes regarding the interaction with women. He isn't portrayed as just a straightforward antagonist, but a complex character caught amid his personal desires and the extremist beliefs he upholds.

Sissako skillfully captures the poignant contradiction between the beautiful, serene desert landscapes and the acts of unspeakable harshness that occur within it. The narrative is filled with symbolic imagery that subtly but powerfully underscores its themes. Whether it's the image of a fish gasping for breath, visually symbolizing the inhabitants' relentless suffocation in the oppressive environment, or the sight of people playing a soccer game without a ball, everything is meticulously crafted to reveal the resilience, defiance, and the spirit of the locals amidst their traumatic reality.

Timbuktu is a deeply affecting elegy to the vitality and diversity of life in the face of oppressive dogma. Far from being a straightforward tale of the good and the bad, it examines the grey areas in between, portraying its characters as products of circumstances more than anything else. It's not just a tale of resistance, but also of love, loss, and the human spirit's endurance.

The movie is presented in various languages, including French, Arabic, Bambara, English, and Songhay, adding a wonderful layer of authenticity. The raw expressiveness of the entire cast, especially, the lead roles played by Ibrahim Ahmed and Abel Jafri, significantly enhance the film's emotional impact.

Timbuktu was widely revered and certain scenes have been regarded as classic. The film was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category and won two awards at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival -- the François Chalais Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.

All said, Timbuktu is a must-watch film that weaves a tragic tale imbued with unanticipated moments of beauty and resilience. It serves as a heart-wrenching reminder of the insurmountable human spirit and a stark portrayal of the oppressive realities that too many communities around the world are forced into.

Timbuktu is a Drama, War movie released in 2015. It has a runtime of 100 min.. Critics and viewers have rated it moderate reviews, with an IMDb score of 7.1. It also holds a MetaScore of 92.

How to Watch Timbuktu

Where can I stream Timbuktu movie online? Timbuktu is available to watch and stream, buy on demand, download at Amazon Prime, Tubi TV, The Roku Channel, Kanopy, Amazon, Google Play. Some platforms allow you to rent Timbuktu for a limited time or purchase the movie for downloading.

Abderrahmane Sissako
Abel Jafri, Hichem Yacoubi
Also directed by Abderrahmane Sissako
Also starring Ibrahim Ahmed
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