Abderrahmane Sissako’s “Timbuktu”

timbuktu-cannes-2014-6Before I get into the review let me just say filmmaking is hard, strenuous, fun, and creative work. So I won’t be too hard on the film – maybe. Timbuktu is a film by Abderrahmane Sissako who is a Malian director. This movie sheds light on Muslim Jihadists and their absurd ways (my views, not the site’s) of oppression on a poor village town.

I’m watching this movie, and I’ve heard all this hype, so I go in expecting this poetic and wonderful masterpiece of art and it falls flat. I know I might be the only critic in America that doesn’t agree with why this movie is receiving praise. Reminder, I said filmmaking is hard work and subject matter of this kind, with this depth, is extremely difficult, and for all intents purposes I vote a yay, go see the movie. From here on out I pick the movie apart, so you might want to turn away now.

three-stars15Sissako (director) takes a neutral tone in the film leaving us, the audience, to say whether we like this or not; genius, but my gut tells me I could have been satisfied even more. I wanted grandeur. I’ve seen African films and they seem to stretch in meditation and prose, while this moved like an American film. If that was the intents of the filmmaker, cool, but so much opportunity was missed with this piece. This movie was littered with static-in-your-face framing, a common trope of modern American cinema. These poor shot choices had me asking myself, “You have this beautiful terrain of desert (subtext anyone?) and you shoot close?” John ford is rolling in his grave.

I can forgive the akg mic in shot (now you have to find it), and the blood for sake of budget and location and difficulty to make this film, no problem, alright ok cool, but my biggest gripe, and the one thing I can’t forgive, is the fact that Sissako had the lens and didn’t fully utilize it. The characters were great, good intentions and motives, plus the actors all had great chemistry. Sound design was flawless, good edits (besides shot choices), good writing, a nice subversive way of introducing the main character while somewhat showing us a piece of this world. I just wanted more of an internal movement which I didn’t get. Good metaphors abound (thinking out loud in my praise) and nice ways to allow the audience to think about ways we would have handled each situation (crazy lady anyone? Again, go see the movie). I just wanted more imagistic and structural succession.

Now here comes my beef and it’s not with the film but with the critics. I am skewed when it comes to watching films having a majority of a minority cast. I am for it and I root for it even more. I can’t change if I wanted to or tried to. With that being said, I am more hurt by the critics offering such praise for an African film exposing American issues and coming together in solidarity for the sake of terrorism fetish. I think and believe if the actions that happened in France between the magazine and the jihadist hadn’t taken place would white criticism be this high? Selma (the movie) tells me no, but Selma is an American film and doesn’t look “American” i.e., there’s no white savior, and white people are villains. This I think justifies their beliefs of, “I told you they were crazy” and how many of white critics (Really, cinema since its inception is truly a white art like hip-hop is a black art where the other is allowed to participate, I understand, I know my place, not quite vice versa but another post) have really paid attention to another race or culture outside of their own? I’m still waiting. So I think in its criticism of their “exhilarating” review it is exposing for most, not all, the selfishness of white supremacy manifested in a psychology of “I don’t have to know anything about anybody else but they must know about mines” but displayed with words like “exotic” and dare I say, “discovered”. No, white critics who pander to European standards, you didn’t discover this average film. You didn’t go deep in the jungles of a dark/oriental continent and try to convert us to proper filmmaking. If anything, you hindered us again through your discovery. Your surprise of the subject matter is more telling of you than the filmmaker.

Just go see the film.

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