Contributed By Foo Cechao
The First Grader is an inspiring film that embodies the message that it is never too old to learn. It is based on the true-life tale of Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge (played by Oliver Litondo) who enrolled into elementary school at the age of 84 upon hearing that the government is offering free education for everyone.
Maruge faces fierce opposition because of limited resources in public schools in the poor nation of Kenya, but he persists and gets himself an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest primary school pupil. Flashbacks of his past emerge as the story unfolds, revealing him as a Mau Mau freedom fighter against British colonial rule. Scenes of imprisonment, torture and senseless killings etched in his memories unfurl alongside his struggle against school officials and parents who want him out of the classroom.
Litondo’s acting sufficiently captures the defiance and tenacity of the human soul, as does British actress Naomie Harris, who plays Maruge’s teacher Jane Obinchu; she delivers a solid performance as a teacher whose singular devotion to help a student endangers her own personal safety, marriage and career. The shots of the remote mountainous region are beautiful, lending a sense of grandeur and a larger-than-life purpose to Maruge’s struggles.
If only the dialogue had fewer clichés and telling more climatic where it needs to be, this would have been a much more memorable watch.