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Sunday, May 29, 2011

"The First Grader"

"Maruge" (pronounced maa-roo-gay) is /was a Mau Mau veteran who survived the tribal wars and the imprisonment (and torture) by the British to emerge at 84 seeking admission to one of the first free public schools in Kenya, where the new government had promised free education to everyone. (Of course they were only expecting children to attend.) Based on a true story -well worth telling -- "Maruge,"  played by the irresistable Oliver Litondo, overcame huge obstacles because he was determined to learn to read. (Eventually his story, including appeals to government officials) made news headlines in the LA Times, the NY Times, and other periodicals.) Finally gaining admission into an elementary classroom, he was fortunate that the principal teacher, "Jane Obinchu" played by Naomi Harris, welcomed him and encouraged him, despite opposition, and even threats.   The children who portrayed his 6 year old classmates (not professional actors) were absolutely marvelous to watch.  I found the flashbacks to "Maruge's" younger days jarring, and difficult to follow, and was not prepared for the violence they revealed (Historically accurate, no doubt). However, this is a powerful and inspiring film well worth seeing.    Justin Chadwick: Director. Litondo and Harris are each worth Four Stars, but as a whole, I will hold back 1/2 Star and call it  THREE and a HALF STARS 

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