Pass mark, can do bet­ter

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Movies - LEIGH PAATSCH Now show­ing State Cinema

THEY say you’re never too old to learn.

And in the true story re­lated by The First Grader, it seems old Ki­mani Nganga Maruge ( Oliver Li­tondo) heard them all too clearly.

This is why the former Kenyan free­dom fighter thought it was high time he learnt to read and write.

Af­ter all, Kenya’s be­lea­guered govern­ment has been bang­ing on about ‘‘ ed­u­ca­tion for all’’. So who are they to stop Maruge from bet­ter­ing him­self?

Even if it re­sults in the ut­terly bizarre ( though cin­e­mat­i­cally cute) sight of an 84- year- old dude tak­ing his right­ful place at a ru­ral pri­mary school.

Had The First Grader been set in the present day – Maruge took his first class less than a decade ago – this un­even and tonally un­cer­tain pic­ture might have fared bet­ter as a whole.

A jar­ring se­ries of flash­backs to Maruge’s younger days dur­ing the messy po­lit­i­cal upheaval of the Mau Mau upris­ing feel like they be­long to a tougher, more com­plex and am­bi­tious film.

While these scenes do add vi­tal con­text to the tale, and also the knot­ted tribal loy­al­ties that hold back the de­vel­op­ment of Kenya as a na­tion, they also ex­haust the viewer’s abil­ity to ap­pre­ci­ate the el­derly Maruge’s quest.

The best stretches of The First Grader are an­chored by a fine per­for­mance by Naomie Har­ris ( pic­tured). She plays Jane Obinchu, the young head­mistress who faces the brunt of the lo­cal and national out­cry against her prize stu­dent with dig­nity and vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

The oddly min­i­mal stylings of Li­tondo as Maruge make much more sense when you re­alise he is a former TV newsreader hav­ing a be­lated go at act­ing.

Over­all, The First Grader earns an honourable pass mark, but will leave many won­der­ing if a bet­ter re­sult could have been achieved.

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