‘My name is Picasso,’ he says, eyes glinting mischievously over a big, bushy, grey moustache. ‘And I sell thousands of paintings a day.’
His booming laugh echoes out around La Place du Tertre. Above him, in the historic heart of Montmartre, the white dome of Sacre Coeur glistens in the early morning sun. Pigeons shuffle and flit, pecking between the cobbles. Empty cafes line the perimeter of the square as one or two Parisians cradle their steaming espressos al fresco. Perched high above the city, painters here huddle over their work, braced against the winter cold. Lovingly they tend to their windows onto imagined worlds.
Judith Prescott is a former top critic for Rotten Tomatoes and author of the French Cinema Review blog. I interviewed her about the upcoming Césars (the French equivalent of the Oscars), Yves Saint-Laurent and Timbuktu.
After the interview I saw Timbuktu myself. Directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, a leading name in African cinema, the film follows life in this northern Malian town, which came under the control of a group of Islamists in 2012.
Visually, the film is breathtaking. It includes one of the most memorable moments of cinematography I have ever seen. After accidentally shooting and killing Amadou, a fisherman who had killed his cow, Kidane staggers back across the lake whilst the dying man pitches and writhes in the water. The backdrop is stunningly beautiful and the shot, perfectly framed, is held and held. You never want it to end.
The relative absence of plot and drama gives the film a slow pace – at times too slow – but the action, when it does arrive, is moving. A scene of boys playing imaginary football – because the sport is banned by the Islamists – is cinematic gold. Most striking is the realism of their game. They twist, run and jump in perfect synchronisation with the location of their imagined ball. Heart-breaking.
Acts of defiance and cruelty punctuate the film’s mesmerising exposition. A woman tells the Islamists to cut off her hands for refusing to wear gloves whilst selling fish. Another woman is lashed for singing but continues to sing during the punishment. A man and woman are buried up to their necks and stoned.
I encourage you to watch Timbuktu. You won’t enjoy it, but that’s not the point.