Watching the film ‘Timbuktu’, knowing the bitter-sweet history of the place, was enough to leave me in tears. Watching it and being immersed in its aesthetic yet heart-breaking visuals left me utterly shattered.

Timbuktu is a film about the daily lives of a Muslim community under Islamic-extremist rule. It tells the story of how Muslims who don’t practice the Gihad ways(which are misconstrued by the extremists by the way as the film reveals) are affected by the extremists who are in this film, portrayed as brute, selfish and quite honestly ignorant people. The way in which the director, Abderrahmane Sissako, does this however doesn’t leave you hating the extremists but rather feeling pity for them, because as seen in one of the scenes they follow practices that they themselves don’t believe.

The film centers in on a herdsman and his family who now live a solitary life since all their neighbors have fled Timbuktu to ease the pressures they face from the extremists. This family however chooses to stay behind not out of blind courage but because they hope things might get better. Things however, don’t. In fact they worsen each passing day.

Visually, ‘Timbuktu’ is just quite honestly stunning. It was shot in Oualata, a town in south-east Mauritania but it depicts Mali’s Timbuktu almost accurately. The setting leaves you feeling nostalgic for a place that once was great and ceased to be so. The director contrasts the beautiful scenery with the inhumane acts of the extremists, like in one scene, the stoning of a young man and girl to death. It’s a painful thing to look at but it is a reality the director wants the viewers to be aware of. That despite the progress the world has made over the years, there are areas that need the world’s attention, sympathy and desperately need the world’s action.

One of the most moving scenes for me was one in which an Iman tells a gihadist that:

I do gihad to my self
I swear I don’t have time for other people’s gihad

In other words he is saying that gihad should be a private cleansing of one’s wrongs through prayer and similar practices but not the killing of people.

If you can, I recommend you watch this film, I’m sure you will, as I did, find it very moving.


Mutsinzi is majoring in Computer Science. He likes reading, listening to music and creating.