REEL Review – I Am Samuel (2020)

Director: Peter Murimi | 1h 9mins | Documentary | Languages: Swahili, English

Samuel lives in Nairobi, a place where homosexuals are often beaten and abused for their sexuality. As years pass, Samuel must decide whether he wants to live the life that would make him happy, or marry someone in order to keep within his family’s expectations.

Murimi’s topical Documentary is neither flashy nor is it the peak of filmmaking, but it’s quality lies in it’s truth. A story of finding individuality and happiness in a place that beats those that seek the same freedom. Filmed in places across Kenya, it follows Sam, a young homosexual man who tries to navigate his life as best he can, with the knowledge that if he comes clear with his parents there isn’t just a fear of desertion, but a fear for his life.

Once Samuel is introduced Murimi shows us exactly what’s at stake. Footage of one of Samuel’s friends being beaten over and over by a group of people, all because he’s gay. It’s an intensely strong opening that helps shape the stakes that follow – watching Samuel deliberate and question whether or not he should come clean to his conservative Father is made all the more thought-provoking because of the potential outcome.

But, there is a shred of hope, an ending that’s a step forward rather than a definitive conclusion, something that adds to the truthful nature Murimi is pushing constantly.

The director’s vérité style allows us to watch Samuels journey. It’s the kind of documentary-style that will be forever important because of the way it tells people’s stories. Sure, information unfolds keeping a sense of mystery to the film, but the style doesn’t demand it to be overly mysterious or playful. It would rather sit idly by and let Samuel tell his own story, which is far more important than allowing the production to force it out instead.

The most prominent obstacle Samuel faces is telling his family, avoiding talks of marriage and introducing his boyfriend as a friend, and fearing what his Father’s reaction would be. His Father, a hardworking Farmer that expects his children to fall into line and make a family of their own, is as conservative as they come. And when the information does eventually come out, he reacts as you’d expect. But, there is a shred of hope, an ending that’s a step forward rather than a definitive conclusion, something that adds to the truthful nature Murimi is pushing constantly. In a world full of discrimination, the small victories and moments of happiness are to be cherished, and Murimi captures Samuel’s continuously.

Even though the camera is respectfully muted, Murimi manages to find beautiful shots regardless. The vibrant countryside of Kenya is red-hot with sandy streets and gorgeous nature, and it speaks volumes about the films quality to find beauty not only in it’s setting but in such a human story. This may be a film about an individual journey, but it resonates so much because of it’s universality.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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