A prized ticket that money can't buy; instead, it was one
that I queued up for more than one hour to get my hands on!
This film's screening, on the other hand,
I did pay to get into! ;b
The 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival draws to a close this evening. Before that, I plan to check out two more of its offerings -- bringing my total HKIFF viewing to 19 films (with my also having viewed Two Thumbs Up, one of the few 2015 Hong Kong films screening at the fest before the HKIFF's opening, and seven of the eight entries in this year's Hong Kong Panorama section, including My Voice, My Life, Overheard 3, The Golden Era, Dearest, Sara, Kung Fu Jungle, and McDull: Me & My Mum).
All bar one of the films I've viewed at this year's HKIFF I had never seen before. The one exception to the rule is a movie I've seen more than 10 times on home video and had viewed once on a big screen in New York more than a decade ago now courtesy of the Subway Cinema collective. But there's no way that I wasn't going to check out The Bride with White Hair on a big screen on April 1st (not so much of April Fool's Day for Leslie Cheung fans as the anniversary of his tragic death) -- and while I may have been the only one in the theater who was there primarily to see Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia on a big screen rather than her co-star, I think I can safely say that everyone adored what they saw that afternoon, especially as the copy of the film shown was so beautifully free of wear and tear!
For the most part though, the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival has been one which has allowed local cinephiles to enjoy watching films from elsewhere in the world -- and while I'd love to see more Hong Kong movies at this fest, I have to say that the international selection I've opted for have generally proved to be worthy viewing, including the following offering:-
Timbuktu (Mauritania-France, 2014)
- Part of the Master Class programme
- Abderrahmane Sissako, dir.
- Starring: Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino, Abel Jafri, Toulou Kiki, Layla Walet Mohamed
At lunch with a friend visiting from the US earlier in the day, the two of us told each other what HKIFF screenings we planned to check out later. When I mentioned Timbuktu, despite it having been one of the five shortlisted nominees for this year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, she told me she had never heard of it -- and what's more, didn't know where the city the film's named after (and is mainly set) is.
Later, while sitting in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's vast Grand Theatre, I wondered how many of the other audience members there for Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako's drama depicting life in a historical center of learning under the rule of foreign jihadists had a personal connection to Timbuktu and Mali, the West African country that it's located within -- and if they did, whether what they saw unfold on the screen was as heartbreaking as it was for me.
In what can seem like another lifetime, I got to know a gentle soul from Mali -- one who, like some (but not all) of the residents of Timbuktu seen in the film has beautifully dark skin and, like at least one of the people in this drama, lovely long eyelashes. Something else that my friend shares with many of the Malians in Timbuktu is a love of music -- and so it was particularly sad as well as ridiculous for me to see that life under the jihadi was one where music was haram along with such as adultery and women going about in public without covering their heads, faces, hands and legs while men, conversely, were told that their trousers should be several inches shorter than had hitherto had been the norm in the area.
The Timbuktu shown in this visually arresting film is one that will strike Hong Kongers (and also Americans, etc.) as exotic. Buildings made out of baked mud -- rather than, say, concrete or wood -- are the norm in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, some of the pathways in the town are so narrow a donkey with a load of twigs has problems passing thorugh them (forget the thought of a car going along them), and the surrounding desertscape is one that looks both beautiful and intimidatingly bare.
At the same time, what struck me most about Timbuktu is the humanity of many of the people in it -- with even the jihadists, notably their leader Abdelkarim (Abel Jafri), being shown to be humans rather than caricatured characters falling on either side of the divide between good and evil. Still, this is not to say that everyone is an admirable personality -- this not least because, as this multi-layered offering makes clear, the belief that you're doing God's work (and for those who didn't realize, Allah's just another name for the same God worshipped by the Christians and Jews) does not stop people from being misguided, culturally insensitive and ignorant, and just plain brutal.
Something else that director-scriptwriter Sissako (and co-writer Kessen Tall) confirm in this work is how no man is an island: with even cattleherder Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pinto), his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) and their young daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed), who live out in the desert miles from everyone else -- their neighbors, we are told, have moved away to areas not under the hands of the jihadi -- unable to escape the oppressive web cast over the area by their fellow Muslims who are not indigeneous to the area.
There's no denying that Timbuktu's tale is a sad one. However, we can take heart in the jihadists no longer being in control of this ancient city that this rich film's named after and its surroundings. Another positive that I hope people will take from a viewing of the complex drama is that humanity and Islam can indeed co-exist. In particular, I came away from the screening wishing that there were more people out there like the local religious elder in Timbuktu and, also, that his way of interpreting Islam could be more loudly and widely heard and practiced.
My rating for this film: 8.5