(director/writer: Abderrahmane Sissako; screenwriter: Kessen Tall; cinematographer: Sofian El Fani; editor: Nadia Ben Rachid; music: Amine Bouhafa; cast: Ibrahim Ahmed, a.k.a. Pino (Kidane), Toulou Kiki (Satima), Abel Jafri (Abdelkrim), Fatoumata Diawara (Fatou), Hichem Yacoubi (Jihadist), Kettly Noël (Zabou), Mehdi A. G. Mohamed (Issan), Layla Walet Mohamed (Toya), Adel Mahmoud Cherif (Imam), Salem Dendou (Chief Jihadist); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Sylvie Pialat/Abderrahmane Sissako; Cohen Media Group; 2014-France/Mauritania-in Arabic, Bambara, English, French, Songhay and Tamasheq, with English subtitles)

A mesmerizing political tone film of our times about intolerant Islamic fundamentalist taking control of a Muslim community in Timbuktu.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A mesmerizing political tone film of our times about intolerant Islamic fundamentalist taking control of a Muslim community in Timbuktu and ruling by sharia law. The polemical atmospheric historical drama is masterfully directed by Abderrahmane Sissako(“8″/”Waiting for Happiness”/”Bamako”). He skillfully co-writes it with Kessen Tall. It was shot in the director’s birthplace of Mauritanian, in the cities of Oualata and Nema. The film has a sense of immediacy, and its tragic circumstances are upsetting and would be comical if they didn’t have such serious consequences.

Jihadists take over a peaceful Muslim community and destroy the local culture. They awkwardly interact with the multi-cultural ethnic locals through interpreters. Many locals have fled from their oppressors. The hypocritical foreign leader, Abdelkrim (Abel Jafri), smokes but punishes others if they smoke. The militants (made up of international recruits and converts), have lost their humanity for a power-trip. They force on the people their arbitrary Islam laws of no music, no soccer, forced marriages, death by stoning and the suppression of women by making them dress in certain ways.

The heart of the parable-like story has the happily married cow-herder Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) accidentally killing a neighbor fisherman while arguing over why the fisherman purposely killed Kidane’s prized cow when it strayed on his land and drank from his pond. The peaceful herder accepts his fate, and is sad only to leave behind his precious 12-year-old daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed), his beloved wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) and his loyal orphan boy herder Issan (Mehdi A. G. Mohamed) he acts as guardian to. Punishment is almost immediate.

What’s clearly shown is that the jihadists want to control everyone and their religion is falsely used to accomplish that through its cruel behavior and absurd acts.