NBO Film Festival at Prestige Plaza in Nairobi has just two more days to go before the full screening of rich array of Pan-African films is complete on Sunday night.
This year’s festival featured films not only from Kenya (including Subira, Poacher and Demla) but also from elsewhere in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean.
But without a doubt, the one film that singularly thrilled two full-houses on the festival’s opening night was Lusala.
Mugambi Nthige’s directorial debut in film was a revelation, especially after just watching the brilliant stage play, Written on the Body by Andia Kisia which he also directed.
But Mugambi’s directorial skills barely scratch the surface of what this man is creatively capable of, bearing in mind that he co-wrote Lusala and also co-scripted Supa Modo, Kati Kati and Nairobi Half-Life.
All of which have been award-winning. But having seen Lusala, one is tempted to say this is the one that might earn him, Brian Ogola (who plays Lusala) and the rest of his cast even wider accolades. (Need I whisper ‘an Oscar for best Foreign film 2019?)
It’s a sensitive story about a boy who’s violently brutalised by his alcoholic father to the point of his running away literally for his life. He’s transported from poverty into his uncle’s affluent home where he grows up apparently a full-fledged member of that family. However, at the wife’s insistence, he’s unceremoniously told to move out and find his own way in the world.
Thrown back into poverty, he starts flashing back to his painful youth and to the sweet sister he’d apparently blocked out of his mind. Her hallucination had been there before which could be why the wife, fearing his instability, had insisted he leave their home before he did damage to her family.
It turns out Lusala had truly been traumatised, but not just by his cruel father. His sister had run away with him but got ‘lost’ along the way.
His feelings of guilt haunt him incessantly and they get worse as he has more time alone.
Brian Ogola portrays Lusala’s mental breakdown with poignant sensitivity, to the point where the last scene feels horribly unfulfilling.
Cinematically, his mental confusion is brilliantly shot, as the camera captures the growing anguish he feels as her hallucination seems to take over his mind.
Lusala tries suicide but fails. Pulled from the family swimming pool, his fate is left hanging as is his captivated audience. The horror that Ogola sustains at the very end of the film leaves us wondering: is the horror the discovery he is still alive or the fact that he almost died? We’ll never know. That is, not unless Lusala, his sister (played brilliantly by 11-year-old Stacie Waweru) and the whole cast are given a sequel to find out: will Lusala ever be lifted out of limbo or find what he lost when the only one who’d ever loved him had been the sister he felt he left behind to die.