*NOTE: This review is going to be a CAPSULE review, which means it’ll be a tight, quick critique of the film as opposed to the more in-depth reviews I usually do.
No, this isn’t a Lion King origin story. Rafiki, which means “friend” in Swahili, is a forbidden love story about tomboy Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) who falls in love with Ziki (Shelia Munyiva), though not without problems. Besides the fact that both of their fathers are running against each other for local office, Kena and Ziki’s romance is against cultural standards and has dire consequences.
Director Wanuri Kahiu has crafted a tender, beautiful love story. We watch Kena and Ziki’s relationship blossom and feel every emotion that they go through. We feel the nervousness and excitement when they first interact. Our hearts melt when they first kiss, and we feel the tension as people around the village begin to become suspicious. We also get to know the surrounding characters, like Kena’s friends and the parents of the girls, which help add more emotion and layers throughout the movie. Kahiu really knows these characters and makes sure we know them too.
Kahui also does an excellent job of placing us in this Kenyan village. The bright colors light up the screen, each building a different, brighter color. We know the people, but we know the village. We know the church the girls attend, we know the shop Kena’s dad owns, and we know the shop where the local gossip happens. The village is its own character and it is just as layered as our human characters.
Led by a pair of dazzling performances from Mugatsia and Munyiva, Rafiki is one of the best love stories of 2018. This is one of the true gems at the 2018 Chicago International Film Festival and one everyone should seek out.
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