'From a Whisper'

A fictive take on the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in 1998 Nairobi and its lingering impact a decade later.

Winner of five African Movie Academy Awards last year, including best picture, Wanuri Kahiu’s first feature, “From a Whisper,” is a fictive take on the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in 1998 Nairobi and its lingering impact a decade later. Though occasionally stilted in writing and performances, this drama does effectively put the causes and aftermath of large terrorist actions in personal terms. Its production polish and primarily English-language dialogue will ease transition to offshore ancillary sales.

Cutting back and forth in time, a bit confusingly for a while, the narrative centers on two protags psychologically scarred by the incident, which also involved a simultaneous if less catastrophic truck bomb in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam. (Almost a dozen people were killed there, and more than 200 in Nairobi; the plot brought participant Osama bin Laden his first serious Western intelligence attention.)

Security officer Abu (Ken Ambani) recalls trying to dissuade old friend Fareed (Abubakar Mwenda), to no avail, from being sucked into an Islamic jihad sect bent on avenging various perceived Western offenses.

Businessman’s daughter Tamani (Corrine Onyango) lost her mother in the blast as a child. Now, she’s furious upon discovering that the woman isn’t just missing, as her father told her, but has long been confirmed dead. Her rebelliousness takes the form of graffiti-style guerrilla artwork in the bombing’s memorial park and other sites; that’s how she meets Abu, who says he must either arrest her or take her to meet his wife, who happens to be a big fan of her work. Interactions between the young woman and older man let both come to terms with a painful past they were helpless to prevent.

Trained at UCLA and in U.S.-U.K. production internships, native Kenyan Kahiu exhibits a straightforward, Westernized craftsmanship here, though at times narrative momentum hits a static patch of overly didactic speech or limited thesping ability (particularly from Onyango). But the helmer certainly exhibits a seriousness and confidence for her age that bodes well for future efforts.

Tech/design aspects are generally accomplished. Leading Kenyan singer-songwriter Eric Wainaina contributes a mellow instrumental/vocal score.

From a Whisper

Kenya

Production

A Dada production. (International sales: Awali Entertainment, Nairobi.) Produced by Kuxi Ghai. Executive producers, Anna Marano, David Edmond, Peter Maingi. Directed, written by Wanuri Kahiu.

Crew

Camera (color), Marius Van Graan; editor, Chris King; music, Eric Wainaina; production designer, Kaye Tuckerman; costume designer, Steve Opondo; sound, Richard Ngugi; sound designer, Nico Berthold; assistant directors, Ezekiel Onyango, Morris Ndagwa; casting, Onyango. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, Oct. 18, 2010. (In Mill Valley Film Festival -- World Cinema; 2009 Pusan Film Festival -- World Cinema.) Running time: 79 MIN.

With

Ken Ambani, Abubakar Mwenda, Corrine Onyango, Godfrey Odhiambo, Lydiah N. Gitachu, Samara Migwi, Tariqa Ismail, Nagib Khan, Musa Mohamed. (English, Kiswahili dialogue)

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