By Sascha Krieger
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Berlinale Special / United Kingdom / Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor)
In his directorial debut, Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor tells the real story of William Kamkwamba, a teenage boy from Malawi who saved his family and village by building a windmill to irrigate the fields during a famine. Ejiofor himself plays the boy’s father but it is Maxwell Simba as William whose quiet persistence and optimism carry the film. Drenched in yellow and brownish colours and a somewhat gentler sunlight, the film accentuates the hostility of the land, zooms in on the flooding and later the cracked earth of dry season, features corrupt politicians and bookends the story with rituals of rebirth. It is full of tableau-style compositions taken from the textbook of Hollywood drama, with picturesque confrontations and embraces and moments of unity. Everything is nicely spelt out and explained, every look, every word, every gesture meaningful. A rather pervasive score makes sure that emotional attachment never breaks. Ejiofor proves to be a skillful catalyst of emotions and does a good job in helping bring the characters to life. He makes the human roots of the issues portrayed quite clear and while not mentioning climate change, the film can serve as a reminder of what’s to come if humanity doesn’t change course. This is its greatest strength: bringing a part of the world close where hunger means an existential threat and can wipe out whole communities. As a film, it’s too conventional, too much relying on clichéd set pieces, piling one disaster on the other in all obviousness, too routinely executed to be completely convincing. Its timing, too, is somewhat off, feeling artificially rushed near the ending after taking a lot of time early on to establish the height from which these characters fall, making the first 30 minutes or so feel quite slow to move off the ground. A decent first effort that needs to be watched if only for its story.