Belgian director Marc-Henri Wajnberg brings to London his first feature film in almost twenty years. Kinshasa Kids (2012) is a fiction film shot in a documentary style which actually seems to veer across the fiction dividing line on more than one occasion and was initially conceived of by the director as a doc. Inspired, though, by the spirit of the people he met on the Kinshasa streets, he opted to construct a story that is able to reflect their brio.
Opening with the sort of exorcism that happens every day in the Congo, the film sets out to show, in a realistic fashion and with little real narrative cohesion, what life is like for those living on the streets of the Congolese capital. Many unruly children are branded as witches and, if the exorcisms do not have the desired effect, dumped.
Once on the streets they often band together and Wajnberg’s camera follows such a group, charting their run-ins with the local authorities (for that read corrupt police), their internal squabbles, and the selection of colourful characters that they come into regular contact with. When things finally reach a nadir, our heroes decide to form a band, led by the utterly bonkers Bebson (Bebson De le Rue), and pull themselves out of poverty by putting on a great gig.
The almost documentary style, and the fact that the children are actual street kids of Kinshasa, means that the opening two thirds of the film are hard to watch in any way other than as portrait of life for those on the city’s streets. The focus leaps between the kids at random and then leaves them for sequences involving the adults that they come into contact with. As such, the movie does feel an awful lot like a documentary that is attempting to build a real picture of local life; its naturally an eye opener and does work for a time.
Unfortunately, when the action shifts and the drive of the plot takes hold while the kids put together their band and prepare for a concert, Kinshasa Kids really improves and you come to realise just how wasted the previous hour seems to have been. Wajnberg apparently wanted to show the joy for life that these people had, and he encapsulates it perfectly in the final 25 minutes. Whilst the previous 60 are absolutely engaging, it highlights the lack of a central thread and you’re left wondering why the concert story wasn’t started earlier and bound in with their fates throughout.
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