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Saturday, June 18, 2011

253. The First Grader

    By now, you all know that I am an absolute sucker for African movies.
    Perhaps the reason is that they all seem to highlight the most amazing human spirit in the face of an adversity that is unbelievable to us in the developed world.
    But I also reckon African film-making is seldom dragged down by complicated storytelling or over ambitious direction.
    The Mirror Boy was the only exception this year because it failed on that first point.
    The First Grader succeeds because it is an extraordinary but simple tale, told brilliantly.
    Its story is, in fact, true and surrounds an 84-year-old Mau Mau, called Kimani N'ghan'ga Maruge, who tries to take advantage of the Kenyan government's policy of education for all.
    Thus, despite his age, he turns up at the local primary school because he wants to be taught to read.
    Maruge has an incredible personal history, having been at the vanguard of the uprising which led to Kenyan independence from the British.
    The rebellion was quelled mercilessly and Maruge's wife an children were both shot. 
    Meanwhile, he was tortured and imprisoned for many years.
    Thus, nothing fazes him, even the disapproval of others. He continues with his bid for an education despite protests locally and from the authorities. Only the local school's head teacher is fully behind him.
    The First Grader is directed by Justin Chadwick who was in charge of the Other Boleyn Girl. The difference between this and a Hollywood period drama could not be more stark. It demonstrates his amazing versatility.
    But the plaudits must really go to Naomie Harris and the magnificent Oliver Litondo.
    Harris, a Londoner, takes to the Kenyan outback with aplomb and is gutsy as the teacher who defied convention by allowing the 84-year-old into her class.
    Litondo brings a real understanding to Maruge's life.
    He is both humble and yet fearsomely determined. You only have to read up of the real Maruge to grasp that these were his chief qualities.
    And, aside of the adults, every one of the many children who play a part were just great. 
    So. The First Grader gets a resounding thumbs up. Thanks to the guys at Soda Pictures I got my hands on a preview DVD and thanks to Mrs W now being asleep the blog keeps rolling from Spain.
    The First Grader's rating? 8/10

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253. The First Grader

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