In a directorial collaboration with Tom Tykwer, the woman behind Run Lola Run, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer as well as the upcoming adaptation of Cloud Atlas, Hawa Essuman crafts a rich drama about life in the harsh slum of Kibera, Kenya.
Soul Boy feels as if it could be a story commonly found in slums anywhere in Africa or elsewhere for that matter. Aside from the strife of poverty and violent street crime, Soul Boy deals with division and prejudice between ethnic groups, problems that no doubt deeply affect communities so condensed together in space and cultural differences. There is also a magical realism and vibrancy to Soul Boy that speaks of the energy of such places, mostly due to the sheer volume of people and the hustle and bustle of their various moving parts.
The story follows Abila, a teenager who journeys through Nairobi’s largest slum in the aim of redeeming his father’s soul after discovering he has gambled it away in drunken stupor. Aided by his girlfriend Shiku, Abila finds a local spiritual woman who sets him seven tasks to save his father’s lost soul.
Gradually the story evolves into a morality tale as each task is completed. There’s nothing ground-breaking in terms of what moral teachings the film offers, but Soul Boy excels in revealing the integrity and social unity of members of the Kibera community as it peels back the stigmas and stereotypes of slum life. Filmed on location, there is real poverty here. But there is also great intelligence and spirit, no more typified than by lead actor Samson Odhiambo.
A triumph of socially conscious filmmaking made all the more remarkable when you consider the film’s brief running time of just over 60 minutes and micro-budget.
– Jack Jones