Genre : Comedy/Romance
Director : Bob Nyanja
Starring : Bernard Safari, Shirleen Wangari,
Charles Kiarie, Patrick Oketch Charles Bukeko
Set in the fictitious Kwetu, a typical African dictatorship, comes this film adapted from a 1956 German film The Captain of Kopenic written by German dramatist Carl Zuckmayer about a true story that took place in 1906 of an ex-convict shoemaker who impersonates an army officer, holds a mayor of a small town to ransom with all the townspeople all too willing to obey his orders in respect of the uniform, in stark contrast to the treatment he was given before he donned the uniform.
This is Bob Nyanja’s third film after Malooned and Rugged Priest and was adapted into a Kenyan story by veteran writer Cajetan Boy and his German counterpart Martin Thau. It starts as petty criminals Muntu (Bernard Safari, Beba Beba) and his buddy Sunday (Charles Kiarie, AGT- All Girls Together) are released from the Nakara State Prison prison by the act of a presidential pardon in celebration of the president’s birthday. While celebrating their release at a pub, Muntu is caught up in a love-at-first-sight situation with Muna (Shirleen Wangari, Shish of Tahidi High) the daughter of a preacher of a sect that fights ‘dark forces’ with wooden swords, and also gets a brush with the powerful and name-dropping violent drunkard that is the Captain (Patrick Oketch, Charlie of Mother-in-law).
Muntu is determined to lead a straight life and resists any of Sunday’s efforts to lure him back into crime but he is keeping his rotten past a secret from Muna for the fear that it might end their relationship. He lies to her that he is a successful businessman back in the capital city and to sustain this statement he has to cover it with lie after lie as their wedding fast approaches. At the same time he is trying to start a hawking business in the capital trying to turn his lie into a reality before Muna finds out but bureaucracy and corruption that starts from the top to the gutters stands in his way.
Most of the cast are familiar faces and include veteran actor Charles Bukeko (Papa Shirandula) as the drunk and lonely widower General Lumumba, and fellow long time actress Lucy Wangui (judge in Vioja Mahakamani) who epitomizes the rot in government offices when a person waits for days for her signature and a stamp on his documents while she stays in her office knitting a sweater. With a narrator at the opening that might give fans of The Twilight Zone a sense of deja vu, this story starts with a style straight from a narrative in the schools drama festivals with a narrator in colobus monkey costume giving the background to the story while a marching band provides background music, this narrative style is also applied at the end and should be credited as one of the features that gives this adaptation it’s Kenyan touch. Add to this the rob-cladding religious sect with a long , weird name and remove the drunk army chiefs and you are in Kenya.
The pressure to turn this into an authentic Kenyan picture must have gotten to the creators, though, leading to a few inconsistencies. How, in a movie set in the early 70s and in the church of a sect that has all the markings of Legio Maria, they arrived at Jero Mash’s JC Anabamba as an appropriate song choice in the service beats all logic. General Lumumba drives his car very competently and parks it neatly yet when when he gets out of it he can barely manage to stand or keep his eyes open. Moreover, the lead actor struggles with English, unintentionally, and can’t seem to be consistent with his drunken stagger when marching in general Lumumba’s house, here one moment , gone the next. Muntu’s , the Captain’s and Lumumba’s drunken acts are all terribly cliche.
The flaws not withstanding, this is a pretty decent Kenyan film though the Mzungu hand in it is visible in the cliche brownish colouring western filmmakers have often relied on when making films in Africa to give the continent an overall ‘dusty’ look. The camera work by Helmut is superb and I particularly love the bird’s-eye-view shot at the bar scene of the Captain, in his military uniform, walking out after beating up Muntu and Waguyu the prostitute leaving them sprawled on the floor, powerless, crushed. Though it is a comedy, the best way to enjoy this film is to watch it not expecting a laugh fest.