CANNES, France: The director of “Timbuktu,” a powerful film about the Islamist occupation of northern Mali, broke down in tears in Cannes Thursday as he spoke about this dark moment in the country’s history.
Featuring death by stoning, lashings, and extreme restrictions, the film, which is up for the Palme d’Or, portrays the forced submission of residents in the fabled Malian city of Timbuktu to jihadists in 2012, before a French-led military offensive last year drove the militants out.
Speaking about the city that was torn apart by the terror and folly of the occupation, Abderrahmane Sissako -- who grew up in Mali -- suddenly fell silent, put his head in his hands and started weeping.
“I cry in the place of those who experienced this real suffering,” he eventually told reporters, as Toulou Kiki, the actress who plays one half of a loving couple in the film, silently wept next to him.
“The real courage is to be found with those who live this on a daily basis, not just one day or two, but for a long time,” Sissako continued. “And they wage a silent combat, which is a real combat waged by humankind. That’s where the optimism lies in the film.”
The first film to be released about the dramatic events in northern Mali, “Timbuktu” revolves around Kidane, his wife Satima (Kiki) and his daughter Toya, whose lives plunge into the abyss as nearby Timbuktu gradually falls into the hands of the jihadists.
Alongside their story, other characters also make an appearance in their daily struggle against the invaders in scenes that are sometimes too horrifying to bear.
In one scene, a woman screams in pain before bursting into song as she is lashed 80 times. Another gasps as she is executed in a hail of stones.
The film illustrates some of the farcical aspects of jihadist rule. A woman who sells fish, for instance, angrily stands up to a militant after she is told to wear gloves.
An elderly man takes off his loose-fitting trousers altogether when his attempts to roll them up from the ankles under Islamist orders fail repeatedly.
Far from portraying the jihadists as rabid, blood-thirsty militants, Sissako tries to give them humanity.
“In every being there is complexity, there is evil and there is also good,” he said. “It’s important to say that the jihadist is someone who also resembles us, and who no doubt at one point of his life tipped over into something.”