If the theme of the films I saw on Friday was “water”, with Life of Pi leaving me too seasick to endure Leviathan‘s tough imagery, the theme for Monday was certainly Africa. While I don’t expect this trend of finding recurring themes to continue through the rest of the week, it does make comparisons rather easy. Coming into Kinshasa Kids after the revelatory structured African soul-searching of Tabu, I found that the former really didn’t know what it was doing, much less how to go about doing it. The struggles of Africa are shown as merely the background for a painfully uninteresting main arc.
Set in Kinshasa of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the film follows a group of children whom people have claimed to be guilty of witchcraft, and who thusly escape from that environment in order to live on their own. They rather naively thinking they can solve their problems and make it big, especially with their musical ringleader Bebson at their side. Of course director Marc-Henri Wajnberg doesn’t seem to be too interested in how unrealistic those aspirations are. Matter of fact, he doesn’t seem to be rather interested in anything to be honest.
The film justifies its shaky-cam style by inferring that it is from the perspective of a documentary crew, which is the first massive foul committed. From the very first moment it was referenced, I didn’t buy that the camera was there. Everything about the film felt rather obviously staged, and the subject matter wasn’t radically different enough for it to be excused. They needed to find a more significant reason for the doc crew to be there, either in symbolic or narrative attitude. Attention is only raised enough within the diegesis of the film to know that it exists, but apparently not that it always exists. To have people so selectively questioning the presence of a camera, and then have others not notice it at all, it immediately rips you out of the experience of the film.
Not that it’s a story that one has particular reason to take stock in, given that the gravity of its cruelty is dispensed in the opening two minutes of the film. After that, the only suffering is shown in the loudest way possible, with characters shouting their grievances at the camera, despite the already acknowledged fakeness, not to mention pointlessness, of its setup. Misery is doled out in painfully droll capacity, at times not even reading as that terribly insufferable. The way the police in the area use their corruption to help the kids out is offensively unrealistic, and the film slaps us in the face with that in one sequence of a policeman dancing in the middle of a time-lapsed city. Sure, we still totally buy this as a documentary.
The film’s main outlet is music, though not of a particular pleasant kind. The nonsense rap that Bebson teaches the kids becomes rather grating to listen to after the first time through. It’s made all more unbearable by the entrance of genuine concert music, which even then doesn’t give enough fresh air to drag us out of the tedium we’ve been witnessing. We get the impression of the kids putting all their dreams, all still massively without logic, on a unreliable factor. Bebson even fades into a goofy animated blur at one point, as if he can’t escape from judgment in a more simple way.
The sound design of the feature is just plain crass, occupied with kids screaming at and over each other, not letting a single word through clearly. The musical sequences are even more headache inducing, with nearly as much banging metal and senseless dialogue as the biggest of Michael Bay spectacles. The film’s editing never lets any of the spare drama sink in, moving passively on to the next subject without a care. They never give so much of an explanation for why the people of Kinshasa consider these kids to be witches at all. If you’re going to put conflict in Africa so obnoxiously in the face of the viewer, the least you could do is give us the most basic explanations.
Bottom Line: In placing African sufferings front and center, Kinshasa Kids manipulatively ignores honest misery in favor of crass music and unexplained plotting.