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The First Grader - Film Review

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by Matt Elliot Taylor (subscribe)
"Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." - John Lennon
Published November 27th 2011

Who ever said that schooling was just for children? As grown adults, we learn new things every day becoming better people along the way. But adults have one thing that children do not: life experience. Someone who brings this to the table is Kimani N'gan'ga Maruge (Oliver Litondo) in an uplifting story about the politics of the education system, The First Grader.

Based on the true story, Maruge is an 84-year-old Kenyan villager who wanders into a local school after hearing about a new "Free Education For All" policy endorsed by the Education Department. He has no money, no loved ones and no skills in literacy or numeracy. Jumping through hoops, he is finally accepted and is guided by the young, loveable and wholesome teacher Ms. Obinchu (Naomie Harrris). But naturally, this causes a great deal of controversy in the press and larger community, believing it to be wrong for such a man to be educated alongside young children. But as Maruge fights for his right to be educated, we learn of another fight he endured back in the 1950s, when during British Colonial rule he was tortured, imprisoned, and his wife and two young children executed before his eyes. Told through a series of memory flashbacks these sequences are quite upsetting and almost distracting and supplementary to the central plot, but are helpful in explaining his physical handicaps.

To viewers familiar with such classroom-based films such as Freedom Writers [2006] and Stand and Deliver [1988], the premise may be construed as cliché, but is in fact quite refreshing and fascinating. The First Grader finds a very effective balance between a study of the politics surrounding education, the growth of friendship and companionship, and the fact that the past is always present. Litondo's performance is warm and compassionate and will not fail to put a smile on your face and bring you to tears at the same time. Shot like a documentary but not without some very interesting and disorientating filmic style, The First Grader delivers a fascinating, engaging, warm and at times funny story about strength, hope and the power of education.

Maruge currently holds the Guinness World record for the oldest person ever to begin primary school education and as such, marks a true example of principal and integrity.

**** out of *****

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Why? An incredible true story that says you're never too old
When: Now Showing
Cost: Check your local cinema for details
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