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The First Grader

Submitted by Commandrea on May 21, 2024 – 1:09 amNo Comment

The First Grader, as the title would suggest, deals with a guy who enters school for the first time in his life. Only we are so far from Diary of a Wimpy Kid territory that it’s not funny. The First Grader tells the story of a man, who at the age of 84 is acknowledged by the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest first grader in history.

Oliver Ltondo who plays protagonist Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge has been in films on an occasional basis if appearances in Sheena: Queen of the Jungle (1984) and Ivory Hunters (1990) count. Ltondo has a grace that goes a long way in making The First Grader appealing. The film’s intro establishes that Kenya in the 1950s was a place of oppression lorded over by British colonialists. After Kenya has become independent an official proclamation promises education for everyone who wants same.

Maruge is at first turned away, because ageism is a prejudice that crosses every culture. During the first hour we see Maruge acclimate into his education situation, but this is crosscut with flashbacks of his incarceration at various prison camps during the 1950s that includes brutal torture. We’re talking scar inducing beating while hung upside down, and the driving of pencils through the eardrums. Obviously this is not a film for first graders.

While watching The First Grader I realized that the school genre is a guaranteed winner. Think about it, films like Stand and Deliver, To Sir With Love, Goodbye Mr. Chips, just cry out for love. Hell, even Dangerous Minds made a lot of money.

About the halfway mark Maruge reveals that the real reason he’s attempting to learn to write and read is because he has a years-old letter that he wants to read. You know that no matter what happens that the film will end with Maruge reading the letter. And when this moment happens you will be pleasantly devastated and glad you enrolled.

- Michael Bergeron

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