A story of initiation, friendship, teamwork and sacrifice set on the vast ochre savannah of Kenya, “Masai: The Rain Warriors” builds slowly — very slowly — to a powerful and touching finale. Family-friendly adventure follows several youths of title tribe as, armed only with spears and nascent courage, they leave their parched village to slay the lion whose death they believe will end the drought. Old-fashioned but worthwhile pic should definitely travel, starting with youth fests. In Paris, it’s been holding its own since bowing in mid-December.
A woman’s voice introduces her timeless village, whose best warrior has been sent to kill a god incarnated as a lion, in order to bring rain. The lion, named Vitchua, wins that round, leaving only untested young men to take the field against it.
The tribal elders choose eight teenage youths and appoint Lomotoon (Parkasio Ole Muntet), who comes from a wealthy family, as their leader. Lomotoon’s best friend is Merono (Ngotiek Ole Mako), the only son of a poor herder.
When Merono is not permitted to go, he runs away, determined to prove his worth; but a former great warrior, Papai (Paul Nteri Ole Sekenan), shows him the ropes. Then, just as all concerned have concluded that Vitchua doesn’t really exist, destiny intercedes.
Unlike many African-set films, this one is low on exotic wildlife; and even when some elephants appear, they’re far from harmless. Instead, pic depicts a landscape of wide open spaces, punctuated by only the occasional waterhole or tree.
On the human side, an altercation with a hostile tribe packs a comparative punch. So, too, does the final showdown between man and beast. Overall, film may feel too slow and didactic for contempo urban kids conditioned by video games. However, the script is never smarmy or complacent, and shows young people engaged in collective problem-solving and decision-making that is often, quite literally, a matter of life and death.