Cannes Day 1: ‘Timbuktu’ premiere
Cannes is always a place for cinematic discoveries. Such was the case Wednesday night with the first film screening in competition for the Palme d’Or, “Timbuktu.”
Directed by Mauritanian Abderrahmane Sissako, the film looks at the atrocities committed upon the people of Timbuktu during a takeover by radical Islamists, who decree that women must wear gloves while working in the marketplace, that music is forbidden and that tea and cigarettes are unlawful.
The movie opens with armed terrorists riding in jeeps and firing at wildlife. And you immediately get the idea that these guns are going to be aimed at the residents, too. That, of course, is what happens over a beautifully shot film set in the desert, with panoramic views standing in ironic contrast to the small-mindedness of those in charge.
The actions centers on a family that owns a herd of cattle, with a son who acts as their shepherd in the sand dunes near Timbuktu. One day, the most prized cow in the herd wanders into a stream and tears up the net of a fisherman, who retaliates by spearing the cow to death. This sets in motion a tragic series of events.
The cinematography bt Sofian El Fani is spectacular. And throughout the movie, Timbuktu appears deserted, with the citizens hiding indoors as the religious militants wander the streets, looking for any sign of rebellion.
The movie has startling moments of violence, as people are gunned down — and even stoned to death. But there are also stirring moments of resistance.
The director has said that these kinds of horrors get far less publicity in the remote towns of Africa than they do in Afghanistan or Iraq. And it’s unusual to see this kind of artistic exploration of everyday life in an African town on the big screen at the world’s most prestigious film festival.
The pacing is somewhat slow, but artfully so. It’s the kind of film that might be screened by the Austin Film Society. But it is probably unlikely to get picked up for major distribution in the United States, in part because of the subject matter, the lack of special effects and the absence of any stars.
That’s a shame. It was nice way to end the first day of Cannes, which began with a letdown, “Grace of Monaco.” Let’s hope that the competition at this year’s festival lives up to the quality set by “Timbuktu.” It looks promising.