Soul Boy is a coming-of-age allegory set in Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi. The film explores concepts of growing up through a highly original plot device. Abila’s father is found one morning in a bit of a state, claiming he has lost his soul. A bit of snooping around reveals that his father went to see a prostitute the previous evening: a witch with the leg of a cow and a vendetta against men since her husband left her. In order to restore his father’s soul, the witch sets Abila seven tasks.

From this fantastical beginning the plot then becomes rooted in the daily reality of life in Kibera. Abila must pay another man’s debt without stealing, help someone in need and return someone’s property along with other stereotypical ‘good deeds’. The story is admirably concise and well structured from the get go and fuses the fantastical with the real, in some ways reminiscent of the strategy at work in Pan’s Labyrinth. This rescues the film from becoming just another feel-good fib. The frame of magic installs doubt in proceedings – perhaps the good-fortune in Abila’s journey is meant merely as an idealised model of virtuous behaviour to counteract the model of malice shown through the witch’s actions.

Regardless of these broader meditations on the film’s message, it is certainly well paced and assuredly made, using the screen-time effectively and succinctly in Hawa Essuman’s debut feature.

Chris Stefanowicz,
Screen Daily

Presented in cooperation with the Goethe-institut Irland