Here is something different that I do not usually do, a film review.
The feature film “Masai: The Rain Warriors” is produced originally in the Masai language. It is about a group of young Masai men who go on a quest to kill a mythical giant lion in order to bring his mane back to their village and appease the Red God to end the drought that their people have been suffering. This film is a story of initiation, friendship and teamwork; these three things along with determination are needed for any dangerous journey to be a success.
With the vast Savannah of Kenya as the backdrop, the movie was beautifully shot, with stunning scenery and locations. The story captured my imagination both on a personal level and a professional level. The cinematographer, Manuel Teran used mainly natural light to re enforce the harsh African sun, and the sweeping shots of the landscape reinforced the immense environment that the film crew had to deal with. There was one sequence in the film where the lighting seemed to be overexposed. However I feel that it was warranted due to the nature of the scene (a long days journey). Teran was able to capture a warm, earthy color to showcase the actor’s dark features and colorful clothing. The director Pascal Plisson did a wonderful job in directing inexperienced actors (actual Masai people) to get the performance out of them that he wanted. I was really looking forward to some DVD special features about the making of the film, unfortunately there were none.
The film starts off on a somber note when we are told that the bravest warrior in the village, “Tipilit”, has been killed whilst trying to slay the legendary lion, Vitchua. The villagers believe the death of the lion will lead to rain and appease the Red God. The village elders decide that 8 young men will continue with this quest. The leader of this group is “Lomotoon”, he is the brother of Vitchua’s latest victim, and also comes from a wealthy family and is seen as the heir apparent to succeed his fallen brother. The best friend of “Lomotoon” is “Merono”, who ironically is the only son of a poor family. The friendship that the two share is unique but not rare in the realm of story telling. Coming from the same village and yet different status is difficult to maintain even in the West, however the friendships that do endure through economic differences seem to be the most telling. Originally Merono’s father forbids him to go on this quest, but Merono insists that he to can prove his bravery and leaves the village to be with his friend.
This is a film about young men coming of age and bonding together. There is laughter and arguments along the way, and of course heartache. At one point a rival tribe attacks the boys and two of the boys suffer serious injury. Later one of the two dies, the filmmaker made good use of silence at this point in the film, because no words are spoken about the young dead warrior, only when his brother reappears he is by himself and their friend is no longer with him. It is this moment the young warriors realize the dangers that await them outside of village life and the important quest they are on is more important than an individual. The sequence of attack happens very quickly and reminds the viewer of how these boys are in a life and death struggle.
Watching this film was a truly cultural experience. The Masai men come across as first and foremost as warriors and protectors of their tribe and their livestock. There is a very touching scene between Merono and a young female admirer where she gives him a small ceremonial cloth to wear. What is so telling about this is that later when Merono is preparing for battle with Vitchua he takes the cloth out and looks at it like it is a photograph and then touches it to his face and smells it. As if it is a piece of his home to keep himself calm and focused on the goal. Merono dreams of marrying the young girl when he returns from his quest. The women are just as fascinating to look at as the men; they all appear to be tall, slender with beaded necklaces and long braided hair. The headbands and earrings are colorful and intricate. On film the overall look of the Masai comes across as very enhanced and tells a fantastic story that these are not boring people at all, they are as unique as snowflakes. When the young men go out on their hunt for Vitchua they cover their body and hair in ceremonial paint, which adds an element of seriousness to their efforts.
Along the trek the warriors would sing or chant while walking, exemplifying the fact that the Masai are a social people, they live in remarkable conditions but are still by human nature attached to being within a community that share activities or interests in communion. The responsibility of every member of the group is paramount to the success in this endeavor.
I was engaged in the film until an unfortunate series of CGI shots towards the end. This was supposed to be the climax of the young men’s journey and instead it played out as a staged computer generated event (the event being the battle with the lion). Needless to say from a film making perspective it was extremely disappointing. Although the ending was predictable where Merono gives his life to slay the lion and bring honor to his family, it showed that the human condition wants to have true charity towards his fellow man weather it is in Vancouver or in Kenya. When the young men return to the village with the mane of the lion they are welcomed as heroes, and Lomotoon rightly directs all the praise to be given towards his fallen friend Merono. This was a great example of true honor, not taking credit for something that he did not do. Lomotoon did what a true friend should do. By telling the truth he was able to honor his friend even in death. There were several instances in the film using the covert message context, no words are needed to convey that Merono is dead, yet it is obvious from his absence that he is.
The young Masai men work within the confines of a very traditional and collaterality relationship with one another. This system spills over into the amicability that the warriors have with nature. The Masai culture is highly masculine and puts a high emphasis on achievement and assertiveness. This was prominently displayed when the two injured warriors were left behind. This was significant for two reasons: one, that the injured felt that they did not want to put the others in danger by slowing them down, and two, the others had to continue their quest for the survival of the tribe. For the Masai men this was about the survival of their village, not about individual accomplishments.
I would definitely recommend this film to anyone who loves films about the human condition. We all have inherent value, the value of life, and the value to sacrifice that life for the betterment of others. Merono is the Christ like figure in this film who lays down his life for his friends.