Dir: Mbithi Masya
Cast: Nyokabi Gethaiga, Elsaphan Njora, and Paul Ogola
Kati Kati in a nutshell: haunting, enigmatic and profound. The word Katikati in Swahili means ‘centre’, or ‘in between’, which is fitting because the characters seem to be dancing in a state of limbo, located in a congenial and enticing purgatory. The film opens in the middle of nowhere, which is appropriate as it alludes to the despondency of the situation. Well, this no man’s land is technically not in the middle-of-nowhere, but in the open fields of Kenya; where our protagonist Kaleche (Nyokabi Gethaiga) stands stoically with an aura of bewilderment, her eyes searching as we observe her.
As Kaleche ventures further to explore her surroundings and find answers, it becomes glaringly obvious that nothing is at it seems. There is a similarity to the 1998 film Pleasantville as our protagonist finds herself in unfamiliar territory that exudes an eerily comfortable ambiance, and the society she has fallen into has accepted the peculiarity as the status quo. It is all very copacetic and calm on the surface but still waters run deep.
Kati Kati is multifaceted and deeply complex as it continues to unravel throughout the progression of the film. This can be seen through some central characters such as Thoma (Elsaphan Njora), the unofficial leader of the motley crew, and Mikey (Paul Ogola) the class clown. Kaleche does well in reflecting the mindsets of the audience such as acclimatization to the situation and the environment she is in. Nonetheless, just when you start to adjust, new developments in the characters arcs prove sobering and serve as a pin in the storyline.
As a young black female, I have had my own journey with mental health issues and believe me when I say it hasn’t always been pretty. I appreciate that film director Masya shines a light on such an important issue and from the perspective of a young black male. The ethnic and gendered inequities towards people of colour and mental health are very real and damaging. A compelling and heartbreaking display of acting by Ogola as Mikey.
There is a constant teasing of the audience with information, as questions pop up throughout the film like road signs, which finally lead to a shocking revelation in the film’s dénouement. The main themes of the film are freedom, identity, loss of innocence and death as a part of life.
The cinematography of the film is imaginative and artsy, with beautiful still frames and captivating slow motion that gives the film a music video aura. The focus of the frames highlights the juxtaposition of the environment that Kati Kati is set in. On one hand, it’s hauntingly placid yet on the other it’s harsh and barren. A contemporary soundtrack that is a fusion of wavy European EDM and optimistic Afrobeats accompanies the cinematography. This marriage paints the walls of the utopia with a semblance of abstract freedom within an encapsulation.
My personal take home message from Mbithi Masya’s Kati Kati is that freedom results from introspection of yourself and looking deeper. Hopelessness or complacency can be a default emotion in the face of our demons that torment and follow us through life. Nevertheless, self-confidence arises from knowledge of yourself and a sense of identity. Seek your truth and your personal release as the characters of Kati Kati had to.
Kati Kati will be showing on the Closing Night of the African Film Festival on April 12. Pop down to Rialto Cinemas in Newmarket between 6th April – 12th April, 2017 for a fun time and good wine!
Till next time