Sissako's inspiration was the 2012 Islamic takeover of Timbuktu and other parts of northern Mali. Various subplots are included but the main focus is on a cow herding family. Kidane, his wife Satima and 12-year-old daughter Toya live in a tent on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Their mundane existence seems to be mostly unaffected by the radical demands in nearby Timbuktu - that is, until an unexpected tragedy results from a neighbor dispute and the resulting justice which will be imposed by the ruling jihadists.
Interspersed with this drama are scenes of various defiant confrontations between the new fundamentalist rulers and the townspeople trying desperately to maintain their customs, dignity and self-respect. Sissako necessarily includes images of punishment but, thankfully, tones down the outrageous violence which, in the final analysis, is more effective without being sensationalistic.
There are several breathtaking scenes of contrasting beauty offered by cinematographer Sofiane El Fani. (One in particular is a long shot of Kidane wadding through a river after a violent confrontation with his neighbor). The occasional music by Amine Bouhafa includes traditional Malian melodies as well as more Western influences and is effectively placed in the action.
Overall, the film is a quiet but profound meditation on the continuous domination and injustice that, unfortunately, is much too prevalent on the planet.
UPCOMING FRIDAY: My annual Academy Awards Thoughts/Predictions commentary.