Timbuktu
⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rating: PG-13 for some violence and thematic elements. Subtitled.
Theater: Walker Art Center.
When: Feb. 20-March 1 at 7:30 p.m. Fri., 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Feb. 27-28, 2 p.m. March 1.

 

This drama of militant Islamists pressing their doctrine on the Malian city of Timbuktu is understandably an Oscar nominee for best foreign language film. Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako — who will visit the Walker April 2-4 for a retrospective — it begins with a breathtaking image: A gazelle sprints across sparse desert as a pickup full of armed men race behind, trying to cut it to pieces. That cruelty moves through the drama in ever-widening forms as Taliban-style fundamentalists try to force their religious dogma on the local population.

At first it sounds like exaggerated comedy as soldiers with loudspeakers warn the women against having bare feet in the hot sand, and argue incessantly in private about French soccer. The game can’t be played, however. A male fan gets 20 lashes for kicking the ball, and the young athletes in the city begin running and kicking an imaginary one. Soon the extremists’ misogyny fuels arresting a woman for singing, forcing another to marry a militant radical against her will, condemning a young couple for adultery with brutal stoning.

The actors throughout are excellent, whether they are humanizing a good-hearted cattle herder reluctantly enmeshed in the conflict or a hypocritical extremist. “Timbuktu” is culturally deep, visually ravishing, utterly heartbreaking work.

Note: The Feb. 28 screening will include a discussion by local clergy and leaders from the Twin Cities’ African community.
COLIN COVERT

 

The Duke of Burgundy
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated but has adult erotic themes, no nudity.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.

 

If “Fifty Shades of Grey” was made as hypnotically as this dreamlike English tribute to fetishism, it would have received critical standing ovations. Nudity is absent and unnecessary: This is a suggestive film focused on hinting, not showing. It pulls us through a portal to soft-focus 1970s Euro-arthouse eroticism strictly through restrained performance, inspired production design, moody cello and harpsichord soundscapes and lush camerawork.

Before it’s three minutes old, images of shy, petite maid Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) being ordered to clean an opulent dwelling by its firm owner Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, star of Denmark’s internationally successful TV series “Borgen”) are atremble with kinky implication. When the servant apologizes for a slip with “I’m sorry,” her overseer replies, “You will be.”

The isolated country house becomes center stage for their remarkably perverse love story. It’s a place where passion is an obsessive power struggle, lovers occupy the top or bottom of the heap only for a while, and whether “Evel” or “Cyn” really owns the house is a puzzle.

Director Peter Strickland works with flawless control, even making images of butterflies impaled in display cases hair-raising. Like the caterpillars turned into the winged beauties pinned in the mansion’s countless cases, the women morph into new life forms. Through evolving passivity and aggression, their revealing lingerie (designed by Andrea Flesch!) turns from symbols of strength and confidence to constrictive bindings. If this sounds like a lot of feminine focus for a film titled after a lord, you must view the whole retro vision to understand the reference. This is voyeurism of a brilliant, deeply refined order. If the MPAA had a shot at rating Strickland’s fantasy, they would try to condemn it without being able to explain why.
C.C.

 

ALL THE WILDERNESS
⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated but has adult themes and situations, teen drinking, profanity.
Theater: Eden Prairie.

 

James Charm is obsessed with death. We meet him scribbling an obituary for a dead crow he spies in a cornfield. He narrates his life story in an enervated, depressing drone, always quoting his father, who loved the wilderness: “It’s a place where all things go to live, and all things go to die.” Turns out, his dad is dead. And James (Kodi Smit-McPhee) isn’t coping well. He’s developed the habit of predicting deaths. That’s sad when you’re talking about your pet hamster. But that’ll get you beaten up when you send notes to classmate Cory that he “will die in 279 days.”

Writer/director Michael Johnson covers a lot of familiarly morbid teen ground in a film with touches of “Ordinary People” and a hint of “Harold & Maude.” But touches and a hint aren’t enough to lift this morose movie into anything any of us need to see or hear to deepen our understanding of teen depression, grief and love.
ROGER MOORE, Tribune News Service