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Having grown up in a village without running water, one of William’s (Maxwell Simba) frequent chores involves hauling up buckets of the precious liquid from the local well, so that his mother can prepare meals. Courtesy photo

Arts

‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’: Truly inspirational

‘The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind’

Four stars

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maxwell Simba, Aïssa Maïga, Lily Banda, Lemogang Tsipa, Joseph Marcell, Philbert Falakeza

Rating: PG, for dramatic intensity

First-time director Chiwetel Ejiofor delivers a masterful fact-based drama

By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic

Since many (most? all?) of us are housebound at the moment, and movie theater screens will remain dark for the near future, this is an excellent opportunity to investigate noteworthy options available solely via streaming platforms.

Unfortunately, absent a review such as this, you’d likely never know such films even exist. Said streaming outfits put all their publicity efforts and house ads into hot new shows and popular Hollywood product; “quieter” offerings aren’t even a blip on their radar — which is extremely frustrating.

“The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind,” a masterful directing and scripting debut by actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, was the British entry for last year’s Best International Film Academy Award, although it wasn’t selected as one of the five nominees recently vying for that Oscar. (Frankly, it should have been.)

365体育投注Ejiofor’s compelling and heartwarming adaptation of William Kamkwamba’s 2009 memoir is another vivid reminder that human inspiration and resourcefulness know no bounds, and that true stories can be more powerful than fabricated drama.

The setting is Malawi, a small southeastern African country bordered by Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. Even in the early 21st century, electricity and running water remain luxuries enjoyed by only 2 percent of the country’s population: a fortunate few that don’t include the farmers who eke out a living in the tiny village of Kasungu.

365体育投注Trywell Kamkwamba (Ejiofor) and his family — wife Agnes (Aïssa Maïga), 13-year-old William (Maxwell Simba), his older sister Annie (Lily Banda) and a newborn infant — farm harsh, unforgiving land in a manner that probably hasn’t changed for millennia, with folks forever worried about drought and beholden to infrequent rains.

What has changed is the influx of private businesses eager to exploit Kasungu’s natural resources, offering one-time cash payments to farmers willing to sell their land. To Trywell’s horror (and ours), many of his desperate neighbors do so, whereupon logging operations immediately begin to fell the trees that protect the village farms from flooding.

When a curious William follows the buzz of chainsaws, and witnesses the carnage, the impact is sickening.

This also fuels Trywell’s wary opinion of the National Unity Party, currently drumming up support for an upcoming presidential election, and likely in bed with those same rapacious corporations.

“Democracy is just like imported cassava,” he comments, Ejiofor giving this line a caustic sting. “It rots quickly.”

365体育投注All this serves as the backdrop against which William is thrust suddenly into adulthood. We’ve already seen that he’s a talented tinkerer, scavenging electrical parts at the local dump, in order to help the family finances by repairing radios and cassette players. He’s also one of the lucky teens able to attend the local school. Trywell and Agnes strongly believe in education (a mantra this film steadfastly maintains, but never stridently).

365体育投注But even this blessing soon is threatened. Failing crops and rising famine devastate the village, prompting riots over government rationing — and worse. The situation becomes dire, due to seasonal limitations: Crops can be planted only once each year due to the absence of rain during the punishing summer months.

Which makes William wonder: Could something alter that dynamic?

365体育投注Simba is terrific in this role, granting William the perfect blend of inquisitive inspiration and stubborn determination, the latter increasingly necessary in the face of his father’s rapidly rising despair. A third-act confrontation between father and son is powerful, with William struggling to mount a persuasive argument while remaining respectfully polite, as Ejiofor’s Trywell becomes impatiently dismissive.

365体育投注This climaxes an evolving dynamic that Ejiofor — as director and scripter — has carefully shaped during the course of his film. Despite the influx of Christianity, Malawi culture still clings to the old ways of magic and ritual. This story opens with the colorful and wonderfully elaborate funeral for Trywell’s brother: a ceremony that blends both religions (a send-off that I’d love to receive when my time comes).

365体育投注Ejiofor’s approach is always respectful and gently instructive. Numerous sidebar dramas enhance our understanding of these proud people, who honor tradition while (at least partly) accepting the intrusion of progress and science.

The village elder, Chief Wimbe (Joseph Marcell), chafes at his inability to prevent his people from selling out. Annie is being courted clandestinely by Mr. Kachigunda (Lemogang Tsipa), William’s science teacher, because she knows her parents wouldn’t approve. Trywell is particularly frustrated when his nephew — and new landlord — joins those selling their trees.

Ejiofer’s scenes with Maïga are equally touching. Trywell and Agnes are deeply devoted to each other, and their comfortable warmth bespeaks a couple who have weathered numerous previous crises. It’s therefore heartbreaking, as we slide into the third act, to see Agnes’ face transformed by mounting terror, particularly when she sees that Trywell — usually so calm and resolute — is surrendering to panic.

365体育投注A quietly heartbreaking moment comes as dusk falls one evening when Agnes tells her son to stop studying because it’s too dark to read — and they cannot spare any kerosene for lamp light.

Throughout all this, we silently cheer William’s little victories: both in terms of his expanding scientific and mechanical expertise, and his determination to make his voice — his ideas — heard, and respected. Simba makes him a marvelous young hero, while (and this is important) keeping the young man credibly grounded.

365体育投注Cinematographer Dick Pope, previously Oscar-nominated for 2006’s “The Illusionist” and 2015’s “Mr. Turner,” favors the earth tones that amplify this often stark setting. His establishing shots are marvelous: none better than the vista which opens the film, with its procession of shamans striding regally through gloriously golden fields of corn, their heads barely visible above the swaying stalks.

365体育投注Antonio Pinto’s understated score is all the more powerful, at times, for its subtlety.

Actors turned directors often are greeted with suspicion; for every Ben Affleck, Ron Howard and Clint Eastwood, we endure groan-inducing flops from Nicolas Cage, Eddie Murphy, William Shatner and even Marlon Brando. But Ejiofor has nothing to worry about; “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” is an excellent filmmaking debut, and a story that will resonate for generations.

365体育投注It can be viewed via Netflix.

— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at redaslaoui.com.

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