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Timbuktu, a historic and multicultural city in the West African nation of Mali, is taken over by foreign terrorists, who impose draconian rules on the population, determined to strike down the reign of peace and tolerance. All at once, everything seems to be a transgression; as such, everything deserves punishment. Smoking and playing music is forbidden; joining in a match of football will get you 40 lashes. Many flee the city, but others are willing to risk their lives in a show of resistance.
In portraying a largely overlooked human tragedy, acclaimed director Abderrahmane Sissako chooses a subtle, patient tone to observe the terror that creeps into the minds and souls of the gentle people of the city as they are gradually prevented from living ordinary lives. Sissako employs metaphor in a remarkably natural way (one especially heartrending example is a sequence of children playing football without a ball), taking pause to examine the inhabitants’ and the terrorists’ inner struggles. Beautifully shot and scored, ‘Timbuktu’ – which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year – is a striking and unsettling cry for help against intolerance and a powerful celebration of human dignity.