TimbuktuThe Walker Art Center

Timbuktu, a film nominated for a best foreign language Oscar, gives a different frame to the ugliness of Islamic extremism. Director Abderrahmane Sissako doesn’t focus on the fury and threat of jihad. Instead, he turns his lens to what everyday life looks like under Sharia law. The result is an incredible film about regular Muslims struggling to live under an impossible regime after their Malian town is overrun by militants.

The women in this story, more than anyone, show backbone to their oppressors. When being forced to wear gloves to cover their hands, they make a huge fuss to the faces of masked men carrying AK-47s. When one is sentenced to dozens and dozens of lashes for singing (because music is banned), she copes with the pain by lifting her voice in defiance. The moment is one of the most moving and difficult in the entire film.

But that scene is the exception. Most of Timbuktu‘s moments are small, focusing on the situations of daily life under religious tyranny. Because when music and games and hanging out are all banned, there’s really not much to do. Even the jihadists have a tough time. Their younger soldiers can’t help but talk about soccer, which is forbidden. One of their ranks can’t even make a propaganda video because his French bears too much evidence of the urban life he left behind, and obviously misses.

The underlying point is that Sharia is impossible. It’s impossible for the jihadists and impossible for the people they oppress, who suffer from it far more. That Sissako chose to make this point while showing the humanity of the jihadists, and how they are, in a way, victims of their own ideas, is truly exceptional. It would have been so easy to make them into simple demons, but because he took the road less traveled, Timbuktu is a far more vital for it.

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She’s Beautiful When She’s AngryThe Lagoon Cinema

She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry is an express ride through the early years and subsequent evolution of the women’s liberation movement. Featuring interview after interview of women who were there — protesting, marching, organizing, and writing — the work is as much a monument to the struggle of these women as it is a message to modern-day feminists. The message reads: You can change the world, because they did.

Director Mary Dore’s approach is straight-forward. No fancy stuff, just interviews and archival footage. She starts the story in the late 1960s with the advent of National Organization for Women and proceeds to show how other groups, like the hilariously-named Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.) and important works, such as “Our Bodies, Ourselves,” fit into the bigger picture, adding certain elements and nuances to the movement’s narrative. And because the movement was massive, fiercely creative and very loud, there was no shortage of issues between the bewildering number of women’s groups that cropped up during this era of social change.

Dore dives straight into these groups and their differing opinions. Their focuses centered on issues like sex, abortion, homosexuality and race, and it’s illuminating to see how radically these women yearned for change, even if some of their ideas, like that all women are lesbians deep down, seem somewhat silly in retrospect. But that’s missing the point. As the title suggests, the idea is anger. Real social change, like equal pay or universal day care, won’t come if women aren’t taking to the streets, raising their voices, or disrupting the status quo. While those words might sound rather trite, they mean something when these women say it.

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The Duke Of BurgundySt. Anthony Main Theatre

If 50 Shades Of Grey looks impossibly boring to you, this might be the antidote. Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy is an avant-garde experience of the sensual and the psychological. While it’s gorgeous and kinky, it’s also a smart study of a complicated relationship, one that both flourishes and withers inside the walls of an elegant, sun-ripened European home.

Like in his amazing Berberian Sound Studio, Strickland plays with various visual effects. Here, he enjoys the double-exposure, and the rhythmic mashing of images, mostly of mounted moths and butterflies. For those visually inclined, the experience is much more than a treat. Additionally, the harpsichord music by Cat’s Eyes gives these images a lush and classical flavor. The combination is a sensory feast, something perhaps out of Nabokov’s dreams.

And the story is something to gnaw on. Like a voyeur, the camera follows butterfly expert Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her younger lover Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) as they play their roles in a sexual routine. Evelyn is the submissive maid, Cynthia the commander and punisher. She’ll read, sitting on the younger woman’s face, or punisher her when she, yet again, fails to do the wash properly. But the power in the relationship isn’t where it seems.

It’s Evelyn, the submissive one, who demands the games. And as the routines break down, it’s Cynthia who can’t keep up the lingerie, who retreats into her pajamas, who doesn’t know how to make the woman she loves happy. The drama is surprisingly touching, and Strickland peppers it with just the right amount of lush, mysterious imagery. Those searching for cinema more colorful than Christian Grey should look here.

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