This French-Mauritanian film shows a Muslim Malian community coming under the control of a purported Islamic group that espouses extreme views. This band of terrorists unravels the community of Muslim believers, destroying relationships and killing people.
The group enters the town and starts by demanding that asinine rules are followed, such as women not appearing in the marketplace without gloves or socks. How is she supposed to sell fish with gloves on, asks one woman? The rules are ridiculous. But their numbers and the ferocity of their enforcement increase.
The movie shows different people in the community, how the community is changed, and how these people’s lives are changed by the people enforcing radical ideas cloaked in Islam from the barrel of a gun.
The local elder chastises the terrorists for attempting to enter a place of worship wearing shoes and toting guns. Leave us to worship Allah in peace, he admonishes them. Surprisingly, they turn away. But that is the only time he is able to have any sway over the terrorists.
Soccer is forbidden, even as the terrorists debate the best soccer teams. A man is put on trial and sentenced to 20 lashes for playing soccer. Smoking is forbidden, even though the head guy is caught smoking and his underling notes that everyone knows that he smokes. Clearly, the men enforcing radical views under the guise of Islam are hypocritical bullies.
Music is forbidden. The first music that the terrorists hear, they track down. The scouts call their leader on a cell phone. It is music and singing praising Allah. It is not clear if any punishment was meted out. Presumably, music is verboten, whether religious or not.
A second time they break into a house where people have gathered to play music and sing. A woman there is put on trial and sentenced to 40 lashes for playing music and an additional 40 lashes for being in a room with a man who wasn’t a relative. She sings during the lashing to endure the pain.
A man and a woman are buried in sand up to their necks. And then stoned to death. All for adultery.
In another encounter, one of the men of the terrorist group approaches a mother. He saw her daughter in the marketplace and wants to marry her. The mother refuses to give her daughter to a stranger. The man announces that he will take the daughter by force.
The village elder meets with people in the terrorist group to protest a girl who was forcibly taken as a bride for one of their own. They claim, of course, that it was all in accordance with Islamic law. They did not need the approval of the girl’s parents.
The central characters are a herdsman, his wife, and daughter. The herdsman accidentally kills a man in a fight over the death of one of his cows. According to Islamic law interpreted by the terrorists, he must pay with 40 cows. He doesn’t have 40 cows? Well, then he must pay with his life.
The movie is a depressing look at how terrorists destroy communities of Muslim believers. And how hypocritical they are. They aren’t Muslims. They are terrorists destroying every place they go and every person they encounter. They are the harbingers of death.
The characters in the movie speak different languages: the local languages (Tamajaq, Bambara), Arabic, English, and French. Often translators are needed to communicate between the terrorists and the villagers. And the translations are not accurate. The message received is usually not the message given.
Islam is used to cloak power from the barrel of a gun in a respectability that fools no one. Those seeking to control in the name of Islam destroy lives, families, relationships, and Islam itself. Everyone outside of their group is the enemy who must be destroyed.
Timbuktu is beautifully shot, showing life in the desert. I was, and still am, perplexed by the crazy chicken lady in the movie. She moved about undisturbed. She must be some cultural-specific reference, the archetype of the woman who stands outside of society and above it all.