Supa Modo


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Supa Modo
"This is a film that flourishes because of the strength and depth of the relationships it depicts and the strength and depth of those depictions."

Supa Modo is not her real name, of course, but an alter ego - fighting crime, a nefarious kidnapper of children in her village. A village she has returned to after time in hospital, where young Jo has been receiving treatment for cancer.

Her mother has brought her home, and though someone observes that "superheroes don't die", Supa Modo isn't about that.

Copy picture

What it is about is quality. Young Jo, Stycie Waweru in an amazingly charismatic performance, has a secret identity. One protected not just by the village, but inspired by her older sister Mwix (Nyawara Ndambia). Her adventures (including using her powers at a football match and a corner shop, in ways as entertaining as Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer) are a secret from their mother (Marrianne Nungo). Though she's frequently disapproving, Nungo's performance is another standout (in a film full of them), as this is a film that flourishes because of the strength and depth of the relationships it depicts and the strength and depth of those depictions.

It was one of several films I saw at 2018's film festival that came close to passing some kind of super Bechdel test. Not only does it feature plenty of conversations between two women that are not about men, I can't recall any conversations in it between two men that are not about a woman. I mention this because it's a rare novelty, and so is Supa Modo.

There's a general rule that the more writers a film has the less well it works, but I'm happy to say that this film is an exception - I'll spare you the digression about what 'proof' means in the context. Part of a project where experienced film-makers mentor Kenyan colleagues, it's full of talent. It's also a proper superhero movie - you should stay to the end of the credits.

Then there are the references. Jackie Chan doesn't appear, but he's clearly present in spirit. Improvised 'fights' and a few compelling low budget stunts add to the feel of a labour of love, one which has me smiling days after I saw it.

Smiling despite, as much as because, it's dark. Jo's brought back from the hospital, but they never say she's getting better.

There's room for mystery - one of the films mentioned is "the one where Jet Li fights himself" and while I'm halfway sure that's The One (where Jet Li fights himself) the films the kids see are remixed by Mike (Johnson Gitau Chege) and it's clear his love for cinema has been infectious. Even if his movie palace is described at one point as a "den of iniquity where [someone] has been whoring"...

The statement provokes what I noted in my wee book as "some looks". Subtleties of performance and reaction, a phrase I also later used for the charming dress-up box afrofuturism of the costumes in Supa Modo's greatest adventure. I've seen comparisons drawn with Black Panther, but to be honest I hope that in time we'll have enough superhero movies of African origin that this will seem a lazy comparison. I also hope that we'll see more movies from those involved.

Awarded a special mention by the International Jury at Edinburgh's 2018 film festival, it was praised for its “excellent portrait of community and family" and that's a statement I can wholeheartedly get behind.

Endearingly bleak, charmingly honest, Supa Modo is not (only) a superhero movie, but it is super, heroic, a treat, even a blessing.

Reviewed on: 29 Jun 2018
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A young girl escapes real life through a superhero fantasy world.

Director: Likarion Wainaina

Writer: Wanjeri Gakuru, Gathoni Kamau, Ian Masters, Silas Miami, Kamau Wa Ndung'u, Mugambi Nthiga, Likarion Wainaina

Starring: Stycie Waweru, Marrianne Nungo, Nyawara Ndambia, Johnson Gitau Chege, Humphrey Maina, Joseph Omari, Rita Njenga, Dinah Githinji, Nellex Nderitu, Ednah Daisy, Peris Wambui, Mercy Kariuki, Cindy Kahura, Nick Mwathi, Muriithi Mwangi

Year: 2018

Runtime: 74 minutes

Country: Germany, Kenya


EIFF 2018

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