The 2014 film by Abderrahmane Sissako, takes you by surprise and ultimately leaves you sitting there wondering what just happened with your life. I say this because if like me you sat down to this film and immediately were struck with the slowness of life and the movie at the start, only to find that you cannot leave it, then you know what I mean.
Set on the outskirts of a small village near Timbuktu in Mali the film mainly revolves around a small cattle herder and his family and the “local” ISIS thugs who now control the area. The film is a serious statement made in a way that draws us in to listen to it, rather than shout the message at us. We see the tranquil nature of life as people go about their normal lives only to have it regulated by the ISIS thugs to the way they believe the locals should live. Music and signing are banned, but yet the locals continue to play music and sign in the privacy of their homes, in defiance of the thugs. People are forced to dress according to the rules of their new overlords.
The local Iman is forced to walk a fine line between representing the local people on religious matters and protecting them where possible and lot having himself murdered in the process. Against all of this Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) lives his life, looking after his family, his wife Saima (Toulou Kiki) and daughter, even his cow-herd (who might be suitable to marry his daughter one day).
There are difficulties such as the bad relations he has with a neighbour who nets the local river for fish. These nets are a cause of concern as the cattle get in to them and destroy them. Life is regulated by the ISIS thugs, who we get a look at. Abdelkerim is one of the ISIS enforcers patrolling the region. He is helped by a local young man who speaks the local language. In deed much is made (in a subtle manner) about how the ISIS thugs are outsiders come in to impose their way on the local people. We see how many of them are in fact from places such as Libya and other countries and practice the bad habits such as smoking they are demanding the local population stop form doing. It should be noted that Sissako’s balancing of the reaction of the local population with the specific story is well done, setting the background and conditions we need to know about for the story to work.
In the course of events, one of Kidane’s cattle is killed after destroying nets while in the care of the young cow-herd. Kidane goes to the fisherman to seek compensation, a struggle follows and in the fight the fisherman is killed. The murder is reported and the local ISIS thugs, taking a break from hunting down people singing and enjoying themselves, arrest Kidane.
The trial “scene” or questioning by the ISIS chief (Salem Dendou) is a study on true evil. The insidious quiet type which tries to present itself as right and decent. Quietly, seemingly during the interview Kidane is sentenced to death the next morning as he could not pay the blood price of far more cattle than he owns. The chief inflicts cruelty in a manner which suggest he is being charitable. Through all of this they must use an interpreter (who seems to be not quite as fundamentalist as his leader) which emphasis the foreign nature of the overlords. We also see just how hypocritical they are, practicing those things which they also ban. We also see through them as uneducated and nothing special. These are a foreign unwelcome people who are not as true and pure as they would like the world to believe. Their power is in the force with which they inflict their way of life on the local populations.
With death approaching, there are no options left for Kidane, he is to be publically executed and the townsfolk forced to watch, is there any chance for him?
The power of this film is in its understatement. The dialogue is sparse and only used where needed. Sissako prefers to show the viewer what is happening, rather than tell. The cinematography is similarly used, giving us a picture not just of the landscape but also of the live of those people who populate that landscape.
An excellent film well worth the watch 4/5