Monday, February 23, 2015


This was going to be a two-movie entry on what Oscar-nominated foreign films I could see before the ceremony, even if the timing inevitably meant that it was posted during or after the program, like... now.

Unfortunately, my plans to catch Leviathan Sunday afternoon was thwarted because the Kendall Square theater was closed. The funny thing about that is how 22 February was the warmest day with the least precipitation in almost a month. But, apparently, that created new problems as four feet of snow started to melt.

Winter 2015 in Boston: It screws things up even when it's nice out.

Le chagrin des oiseaux (Timbuktu)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 21 February 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #9 (first-run, DCP)

It's a bit odd that the first film from Mauritania to be nominated for an Academy Award is about Mali, but this isn't the sort of movie that a country generally makes about itself until much later in its history. We're lucky that Timbuktu is getting that extra little bit of attention and wider theatrical release that comes with being an Oscar nominee, at least, as it's a terrific little movie. The combination of earnest tragedy and achingly painful absurdity can be hard to stomach, but it's harder still to look away.

It takes place in and around the ancient Malian city of the title, during the Northern Mali Conflict of 2012, and the new men in power are making sure that things are being done in accordance with the stricter new laws: Women in the marketplace must wear gloves and socks in addition to covering their heads, for instance, and music is strictly outlawed. Enforcement is rather more lax in the sparsely-settled lands outside the city, where laid-back cattle farmer Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino) plays guitar and floats the idea of giving a forthcoming calf to Issan (Mehdi A.G. Mohamed), the orphaned boy his family has taken in, with wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) and 12-year-old daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed). They cannot entirely avoid the changes around them, though, and it may not just be the tendency of jihadist Abdelkrim (Abel Jafri) and his translator Omar (Cheik A.G. Emakni) to pay visits when Kidane is our walking the property that brings thing to a head.

It's a bit unfair to present Timbuktu as entirely, or even primarily, being about Kidane and his family, although most of us do it because theirs is the story that comes closest to running from start to finish, and also the one where everybody involved has their name spoken out loud. It allows us to build a quick rapport with the group and lets them be a quiet commentary on what's going on elsewhere until their own story ramps up - director Abderrahmane Sissako will do obvious things like cutting to Kidane playing guitar as the jihadists enforce a no-music rule in the city, often underlining that what is happening in the city is not about Islam itself - this family shares the same religion but clearly practices it differently. In fact, one can argue that their travails have little to do with the rebellion besides generally heightened tensions which Kidane perhaps underestimates because they don't affect him like they do Satima and Toya.

Full review on EFC.

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