Film : Angles of My Face
Director :Manu Maina
Writer :Alice Kombani
It was one of those rare times I get to hear that a Kenyan movie is showing at Imax. I had to see it. This is a directorial debut by Manu Maina teaming up with first-time producer/writer Alice Kombani for a 15 minute revisit of the 2007/2008 post-election violence tracing the shadows of Bresson’s Pieces for Peace and Judy Kibinge’s Something Necessary. Angles of my Face is about Sofia and her husband Manche who live in a camp for displaced people in the aftermath of the violence. The story explores how they battle with trauma, as well as an ethnically charged neighbour, individually and as a family against staggering odds. Most of the cast and crew is made up of Kenyatta University film and theatre students most of them working on a project of this size for the first time, and although this was clearly evident, there were a few sparks of brilliance in the film.
In a rare feat for an armature director, Manu Maina commendably tried to let the camera speak in this film. (Spoiler Alert:) From the suspense, urgency and turmoil created by the shaky hand-held camera when Sofia goes into labour in her shed with only her little son Taraji to help, to the incredibly profound and powerful birds-eye-view long static shot of two nurses helping her deliver the baby before she dies from bleeding and we get to see it from outside the tent in a silhouette while Taraji sits outside in the dark night with his back to the tent terrified. The disturbing beauty about that scene was in watching Sofia lose her life, in real time, leaving me feeling just like Taraji; helpless and sad.
You were waiting for a ‘but’ and here it comes. But in this decent debut, and I call it decent because it is generally good, a couple of school-boy errors put a blot on what would have been a fantastic picture. While the director moved in for close-ups when he should have, the cast were not credible up close. Sophia tried, and failed, to conjure a tear in a close up after a tribal hate jibe by her neighbour, only managing an unconvincing dry sob. What would have been a beautiful end is ruined by Manches cliche acting and a translation error when the word taraji (correct translation – expectation) is mistranslated as ‘hope’ and yet the end hinged immensely on getting that translation right. Moreover, as much as I tried, I could not relate the title to the film. Strangely enough, neither could Alice Kombani at the subsequent Q&A session after the premiere! That was quite a shock to me. The tricky thing with a short film like this is that even 3 mistakes is a lot given that they happen within such a short time.
In it’s approach in tackling the PEV, this film has only done to support an opinion that I have held for many years. Kenyan filmmakers lack courage. They prefer playing safe by avoiding controversy while hiding under the pretense of ‘maintaining peace’. Why use fictitious names of tribes like Watiri? It was equally difficult to relate with any of the character names too because they were either too unfamiliar or were straight out a high school set book set up where characters are given symbolic names. I believe we have grown up and we can handle handle a film and artists should not let a few immature people in the society ground their freedom.
PS – This should be a first in the history of film criticism; honouring a poster. This honourable mention it is in recognition of that amazing poster. I rank it the best ever for a Kenyan film, by far, although the film struggles to fulfill the expectation it creates.