LFF 2020: I Am Samuel – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – TBC, Run-time – 1 hour 10 minutes, Director – Peter Murimi

A gay Kenyan man worries about opening up about his relationship to his parents for fear of their response and the reaction of the rest of society.

You have to admire the bravery to make a film like I Am Samuel. Following a gay couple in Kenya – where visible acts of homosexuality can lead to up to 14 years imprisonment, or simply being attacked and beaten in the streets – as they try to avoid stigma and discrimination for who they are. Throughout the film, which was shot over the course of five years, we follow Samuel and Alex, two almost inseparable friends who clearly have a deep love for each other. Yet, there’s fear in each of them at the consequences of what might happen to them if they properly open up about their relationship to anyone outside of their friendship group. Samuel himself worries about telling his highly traditional farm-living parents, particularly his father, that Alex is more than just a friend to him for fear of being disowned and beaten out of their small, deeply religious, village.

Yet, the film takes more time to look at the positives of the central relationship, how happy the pair are when they’re together. It makes for a rather harmless journey, but still with some interesting and engaging points. We see the two, alongside various friends, party in the safety of their flat as they celebrate their love and each other, discussing their relationships, identities and wishes for the future. All filling up a fair chunk of the short, at only 70 minutes, run-time that the piece holds.

There are points where it feels as if director Peter Murimi wants to take a look at darker territory. At one point a flatmate of Samuel’s is attacked in the street, being believed to be gay, which causes him to panic that he will receive similar treatment. Throughout there are hints of such elements, and the film appears to want to show them in more depth, however it seems comfortable focusing on the central relationship rather than the response to homosexuality in Kenya, filled with many severe punishments, far worse than almost 15 years in prison. However, the film strays away from majorly exploring such topics, knowing its focus and staying relatively the same throughout.

For the viewer it’s mostly harmless, although there is seriousness to a number of the scenes and instances. The film itself passes by and you do feel for the characters on a number of occasions, especially Samuel when it comes to his parents and their response to his relationship – at one point stating “they might know the truth, but they are willing to believe the lie”. The viewer, like Samuel, is never fully sure. There’s emotion to be found within such ideas, as they linger throughout the film and are dwelled upon at various intervals. You do begin to want it to go a bit deeper or explore some other elements. It does feel safe at times, despite the bravery that clearly had to be present while making the film. It knows what it can do within its limitations, and what it’s comfortable doing, and does that. And for that it’s a decent enough, and undeniably short, watch that has some interesting points to look at.

A fair deal of bravery has clearly gone into the making of I Am Samuel, and it’s clearly even more of a personal piece for all involved. It often feels rather calm and harmless, as if it wants to show some darker elements, but for what it does it’s a decent look into the hopes and worries of those in the core relationship.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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