In Wanuri Kahiu’s latest, her pure kindred soul and her eye for heartwarming relationships return in the highly controversial yet critically acclaimed Rafiki, a film which was banned in its native country Kenya, but also garnered plenty of awards and standing ovations in several film festivals, including Cannes, where the film received critical traction in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival. Rafiki, unlike what the highly homophobic censorship boards in Africa may say, is a sweet and delightful romp, which may be all too similar in terms of narrative and character development.
It’s the same old story, in the vein of Romeo and Juliet. It’s about one girl falling for another, creating a lovely bond with each other, in which their higher authorities figures find out and ruin said relationship, which turns into an unfortunate separation for the couple. For a story which has been done to death for centuries on end to this point, I’m disappointed to report that Kahiu didn’t do much with the cliche’d material, and instead relied on tropes, stereotypes, and repetitive plot beats to formulate and execute the film.
Although there is talent behind the camera, Wanuri Kahiu is a director that has so much more to learn and experiment here. Even though I highly enjoyed Kahiu’s general aesthetic, such as the film’s bright color palette, and the opening collage-themed title cards which was thematically brilliant in conjunction with the film’s uplifting themes, there’s still plenty of amateur mistakes, which would be technically fine if Rafiki was a first time debut, but due to how the film is Kahiu’s 5th feature-focused directing project, this doesn’t make the film better in terms of artistic integrity and forgiveness.
There’s plethora of out of placed frame rate changes, off-putting editing decisions (such as cutting to early, before switching to the next shot), odd language shifts between English and Swahili, and lack of narrative pace and emotional catharsis which all add up to an unrewarding directing effort from Kahiu and her numerous supportive backers. It’s not terrible, nor even the worst piece of film-making I’ve seen in 2018. It’s just that Wanuri and her crew needed a bit more work in post before going into distribution. Trust me, there’s a lot of potential here.
There’s most certainly an innovative vision within Rafiki. It’s an earnest film that’s void of any artificiality. With it’s usage of modern contemporary pop and it’s crowd pleasing characters, there’s no doubt that people will adore this film when it’s eventually released. All though the film does not succeed entirely at the end of the day, there’s still plenty of admirable scenes which embody the film’s talent at hand.
My final thoughts you ask? Fuck censorship boards.
Film Movement currently owns the North American Rights to Rafiki. Release Dates TBA