Charismatic performances by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva make you believe in the characters and invest in the romance. When harsh reality inevitably intrudes on their dream love, the emotional impact is all the deeper.
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Its simplistic observation of romantic love in its purest form colliding with political, religious, familial and societal intolerance seems designed to speak clearly to teenage audiences experiencing similar struggles between identity and oppression. Those well-meaning intentions only take the film so far, however, and mature audiences will be left wishing for greater narrative complexity.
Its lead protagonists and their endless reserve of raw, bittersweet chemistry are Kahiu’s greatest asset.
Wanuri Kahiu’s sophomore feature is just good enough to give its modest intentions a historic purpose, bringing fresh context to an old formula while hitting the expected emotional beats.
Even when Rafiki irons out its emotions a little too neatly, however, Mugatsia and Munyiva’s relaxed, sparking chemistry quickens its heartbeat.
What Kahiu’s film lacks in originality, it makes up for in its depiction of the giddy flush of first love. Mugatsia and Munyiva have an easy, unfussy chemistry that overcomes some creakier moments of dialogue.
While the premise of Rafiki is well-worn, the context of the film is not and Kahiu brings fresh zest to a familiar story which is told with spirit.
If the film is uneven—with such an exuberant beginning and disappointingly rote climax—that may simply be because Kahiu wanted to communicate as many truths of her home country as she could.
Kahiu gives the film a brightness and vibrancy that works to counterbalance the perilous waters into which Kena and Ziki are venturing.