Friday, February 5, 2010

BAREFOOT TO TIMBUKTU, Martina Egi's documentary about Ernst Aebi opens

The lives some people lead! How is it that certain indi-
viduals accomplish so much in so many different fields, while others of us simply sit back and watch? (Or write about it.) Viewing the engaging documentary by Martina Egi (shown below) about the artist/builder/sailor/adventurer Ernst Aebi brings just such thoughts to mind.

BAREFOOT TO TIMBUKTU: Ernst Aebi -- Come Hell or High Water (I think we might shorten that title) introduces us to the man, and while it does not begin to answer TrustMovies' question in the previous paragraph, it gives enough information -- colorful facts, history, tidbits and opinions -- to engross us and prime us for more. 

More, in this case, would be all about Herr Aebi and his various careers: first as an artist, then a family man and world traveler who, during his time in Africa, comes upon the tiny village of Araouane (which, if you click on the link, will give you information and other links about the nomadic Tuareg Rebellions that have plagued the region for decades).  It is in Araouane, in the late 1980s, that Ernst becomes involved with the villagers, helping them to bring back to the little town some of its former glory.

Teaching the Araouaners to plant a vegetable garden (they seem to be able to handle everything but garlic -- which proves too intense a flavor for them), he goes on to help them build a hotel for tourists,  and in general to become somewhat self-supporting.   Late in the film, listen to him angrily explain to the villagers why they must learn to keep their resources local and within their own community.  The introduction of Aebi's new wife into the mix also helps the the entry of the Araouane women into the work force.

When yet another rebellion of the Tuareg created havoc in Mali during the early 1990s, the Aebis had to flee.  Ernst's return to Araouane nearly two decades later  -- and what he finds there -- provides the emotional kick of the movie, and it's a good one: thoughtful and melancholy.

This is all Ernst the traveler.  But what about Aebi the family man?   We get tantalizing glimpses of the guy via his four children (three girls and one boy) who seem to love and respect their dad, warts and all. However good or bad a dad he might have been, he did wrest his kids away from their mom, whom he declares an unfit mother.  (The children, grown now, don't seem to disagree.)   Back in Switzerland we meet his two brothers (center and right, above), next to whom Ernst seems noticeably Americanized.

Regarding the artist, we see some of his early pen-and-ink work: "One drawing could take me weeks to complete!" he explains, "so now I just paint horses.  It's much quicker."  Aebi became successful early in life and used the art money to start a loft renovation business in New York's Soho, which also proved an enormous success. The man does seem to have the Midas touch.

And yet.  There is something that remains unsatisfied about Mr. Aebi. He'll always be going and doing, it seems -- remaining just out of reach of everyone else in his life -- including, perhaps, himself.

BAREFOOT IN TIMBUKTU -- from Mesch-Ugge filmproduktionen, Zurich -- opens next Friday, February 12, in New York City at the Quad Cinemas.

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