"Where is God in all of this?" A religious leader poses this question to an Islamic militant conducting Jihad in the Malian desert in Abderrahmane Sissako's Timbuktu. The aggressor provides no answer.
The contradictions of extremism are readily apparent throughout this story of a peaceful community under siege. Citizens go about their business as Jihadis ride motorbikes and jeeps around town, implementing conservative restrictions on a range of freedoms, including the right to play music and openly displaying affection. Terror has become normalized, but no less damning.
Sissako's film unfolds with a loose narrative surrounding a dispute between two residents of Timbuktu that ends in murder, but that's only one thread in a larger mosaic. Subtle acts of rebellion connect them all, the most potent involving a group of young men playing a soccer game despite lacking the necessary ball. It's a gorgeous sequence of protest against the arrogant tyranny of violence and fear.
Indeed, when outright revolution seems impossible, symbolism can take its place. Much of Timbuktu involves such graceful and empathetic examples. Whether it's the aforementioned sports sequence or the moment a woman blocks the path of an insurgent vehicle and spreads out her arms like a Christ figure, Sissako's mission remains clear.
"Humiliation must come to an end," one man says, and every scene in Timbuktu feels like a step in the right direction, no matter how brutal the subject matter becomes. Its characters display an honesty about fear and death unmatched by any recent film. As a result, the Jihadis are stripped of their power and revealed to be cowards who hide faithlessly behind rhetoric and AK-47s.
Sissako's film, which opens Friday, March 6, is essential viewing for these reasons and many more. Please see for yourself.
Chappie: Neill Blomkamp (District 9) directs this sci-fi film about a police robot who's reprogrammed to think and feel for himself, drawing the wrath of his totalitarian overlords.
The Salvation: Starring Mads Mikkelsen as a Danish immigrant seeking revenge for the death of his family, this western set in the 1870s echoes the work of Leone and Eastwood.
The Second Best Marigold Hotel: The long-awaited, much-anticipated sequel to the movie you never thought would get a sequel, this time sporting the charms of Richard Gere.
Timbuktu: This Oscar-nominated drama by Abderrahmane Sissako depicts the oppression of a Malian town under siege by Islamic militants.
Two Days, One Night: After being laid off so that her colleagues can get a pay increase, a woman (Marion Cotillard) visits each of her coworkers individually to ask them to help salvage her job. Screens through March 12 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Unfinished Business: Three hard-working business associates travel to Europe, hoping to close a massive deal, only to get sidetracked by numerous distractions involving booze and women.
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Apache 8: This film by Sande Zeig tells the stories of four women who are part of an all-female wildland firefighter crew from the White Mountain Apache Tribe in Arizona. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, as part of the Women's Film Festival San Diego, happening throughout March at the Women's Museum of California in Point Loma's Liberty Station.
The Short List: Short films from Uzbekistan, Norway and Germany will be presented in this collection of international works. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at the Lemon Grove Library.
Pacific Rim: To defeat a bunch of megamonsters that threaten to destroy Earth, some highly skilled warriors build their own army of massive robots as a last line of defense. Screens at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at Arclight La Jolla.
Tommy Boy: Chris Farley and David Spade romp around the country, trying to sell brake pads and stave off their company's imminent bankruptcy. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 4, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1: Katnis Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) takes up arms against the capital and its president (a seedy Donald Sutherland). Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Back to the Future: Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) travels back in time to save his family with the help of a mad scientist and a worm-hole-jumping DeLorean. Screens at 11:55 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at the Ken Cinema.
The Homesman: A woman of upstanding character (Hillary Swank) agrees to transport three crazy matriarchs across the open prairie with the help of a questionable cowboy (Tommy Lee Jones). Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
Salt of the Earth: This famous docudrama depicts the struggles of Mexican- American workers striking against a mining company in the 1950s. Screens at 5 p.m. Sunday, March 8, at the Women's Museum of California in Point Loma's Liberty Station.
Titanic: Vagabond Jack (Leonardo Di- Caprio) and socialite Rose (Kate Winslet) find love aboard an ocean liner before it strikes an iceberg and sends thousands of passengers to their watery graves. Screens at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 9, at Arclight La Jolla.
Dear White People: Activist students confront the racism and inequality on their Ivy League campus leading up to a fraternity party that will make headlines for all the wrong reasons. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 9, at San Diego Central Library in East Village.
The Last of Robin Hood: Legendary actor Errol Flynn (Kevin Kline) takes a liking to a young actress (Dakota Fanning), setting the tabloids on fire in the process. Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at the Point Loma / Hervey Branch Library.
States of Grace: This documentary tells the story of Dr. Grace Dammann, a leading AIDS researcher who was left disabled after a car accident on the Golden Gate Bridge and lived in a Buddhist community to help rehabilitate. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 10, at Hillcrest Cinemas.
Esther Broning, A Weave of Women: Lilly Rivlin's documentary depicts the evolution of Jewish feminism in New York City, a movement fortified by the work of Esther Broning. Screens at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, at the Women's Museum of California in Point Loma's Liberty Station.
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story: Ben Stiller is the leader of a misfit dodgeball team that enters a Las Vegas competition. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 11, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Big in Japan: Members of a struggling rock band from Seattle head to Tokyo, hoping to make it big and leave their day jobs behind. Ends March 5 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Focus: Will Smith and Margot Robbie talk wise and look sexy as grifters embarking on one last con job. It's directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris).
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem: A distraught Israeli woman spends years in a rabbinical court trying to obtain a divorce from her well-respected husband.
The Lazarus Effect: Olivia Wilde stars in this thriller about a team of medical students who discover a way to bring back the dead. From the looks of the creepy trailer, this was not the best idea.
Leviathan: A land dispute in a rural Russian town escalates quickly, leaving a family in ruin and reinforcing the corruption wielded by government and religious institutions. Director Andrei Zvyagintsev updates The Book of Job with striking force.
Red Army: Documentary about the Soviet Union's famed Red Army hockey team, as seen through the eyes of the squad's leader.
S he's Beautiful When She's Angry: Director Mary Dore's documentary looks back at the brilliant and outrageous figures who founded the modern women's movement in the late 1960s. Ends March 5 at the Ken Cinema.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2: In order to save a friend who's been shot, the Hot Tub gang jumps back into the time machine and begins messing with the past.
McFarland, U.S.A.: Kevin Costner stars as a cross-country coach in a small California town who takes a team of Latino athletes and transforms them into championship contenders. Disney strikes again.
The Duff: Bianca (Mae Whitman), a teenager who's been labeled unattractive by her more popular friends, decides to lead a social revolution that will undermine the pecking order at her high school.
The Last Five Years: Richard LaGravenese adapts the famous musical about a struggling actress (Anna Kendrick) and her novelist lover (Jeremy Jordan) who experience the highs and lows of a volatile relationship.
What We Do in the Shadows : Four vampires living in modern-day New Zealand struggle to find happiness and friendship in Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi's hilarious mockumentary.
A Girl Who Walks Home Alone at Night : Set in the dystopic town of Bad City, a young vampire tries to find solace in the arms of a drug dealer. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
Fifty Shades of Grey : The perfect Valentine's Day present for your masochistic significant other.
Kingsman: The Secret Service : Colin Firth leads a team of British secret agents against a maniacal bad guy played by Samuel L. Jackson.
Seventh Son : Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore team up in the craziest sequel to The Big Lebowski that you could possibly imagine.
Jupiter Ascending : Have you ever hoped to experience Channing Tatum in full eye shadow and Mila Kunis as a world-saving goddess? Andy and Lana Wachowski's long-delayed sci-fi opus will be your chance.
Humpback Whales : Experience the awe-inspiring and diverse world of the humpback whale, which 50 years ago was on the verge of extinction. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of the Water : "Making waves in our world." That tagline says it all, really.
Still Alice : Columbia University professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease and must come to grips with her own fading memory and mortality.
Black or White : Kevin Costner plays a grieving widower who's caught up in a custody battle for his granddaughter. It costars Octavia Spencer and Gillian Jacobs.
Black Sea : Jude Law plays the commander of a submarine tasked with retrieving a load of stolen gold from the bottom of the ocean.
Project Almanac : When some teens disregard every cautionary tale and travel back in time, their lives are turned upside down. Shocker.
Song of the Sea : Merging folklore and fairy tale, Tomm Moore's gorgeous animated film tells the story of a brother and sister who get swept up into a fantasy world of selkies, sprites and giants. Screens at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas.
A Most Violent Year : When his business is threatened by a string of armed robberies, the owner of a New York City gas company (Oscar Isaac) must adapt to the volatile surroundings to survive.
American Sniper : Clint Eastwood's unflinching and critical biopic of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), who became the deadliest sniper during four tours in Iraq.
Paddington : Traveling from Peru, a young bear arrives in London hoping to find a home. There he meets the Brown family, who offer him a temporary safe haven.
The Wedding Ringer : Who best to impress your new in-laws than a loud, vivacious Kevin Hart? Josh Gad's shy young groom-to-be agrees.
Selma : Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo) attempts to create voter reform in Selma, Alabama, a hotbed of racism and disenfranchisement.
Taken 3 : Liam Neeson reprises his role as the badass who keeps losing family members to kidnappings. Maybe third time's a charm?
Into the Woods : Beware the Wolf, Sondheim. Beware the Wolf.
The Imitation Game : Benedict Cumberbatch stars as real-life code breaker Alan Turing, who led a squad of British mathematicians in breaking the Enigma code during World War II.
Unbroken : Angelina Jolie's sophomore effort examines the life of Olympic athlete and World War II prisoner of war Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) who overcame extreme odds to survive a Japanese internment camp.
Wild : Based on the best-selling novel, this drama tells the story of Cheryl Strayed, who trekked more than 1,000 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail to reassess her troubled life.
Foxcatcher : Bennett Miller's dark sports film tells the tragic true story of the Schultz brothers (Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum), wrestlers who became forever entwined with the wealthy heir to the du Pont fortune (Steve Carell).
The Theory of Everything : Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) is diagnosed with motor-neuron disease just as he's graduating with a doctorate degree in physics from Cambridge and starting a new life with his wife (Felicity Jones).
Birdman : A burnt-out superhero actor (Michael Keaton) tries to mount a play on Broadway in order to prove his worth. It co-stars Naomi Watts, Emma Stone and Andrea Riseborough.
Whiplash : A sadistic music teacher tortures a young drummer at a posh New York City conservatory.
Hidden Universe : Blast off into the stratosphere with this documentary that uses real images captured from telescopes to examine the vast reaches of space. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Journey to the South Pacific : Let the glorious scale of IMAX take you to the tropical islands of West Papua, where life under the sea is just as lush and vibrant as it is on shore. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.