In Swahili with English subtitles

TRIGGER WARNING: This film has a plot that focuses on the life of a terminally ill child

Supa Modo (2018) is an emotionally involving drama directed and co-written by Likarion Wainaina, which follows a family’s efforts to care for terminally ill nine-year-old girl Jo in the best way possible.

Jo has been staying in hospital full-time for treatment, seeing her mother and older sister only at weekends, although the days there are made more cheerful (albeit bitter-sweet) through friendships with other sick children and, in particular, superhero movies, which are shown along with live commentary by local film buff Mike.

When Jo’s mother realises that her condition in incurable, she makes the decision to take her back home to her rural village and look after her there. The whole village is touched by Jo’s plight, and her sister Mwix dreams of fulfilling Jo’s dreams of living the life of a superhero.

I liked the way Jo’s “tomboyish” interests in action films and football are presented as part of her, and refreshingly never challenged or treated as odd by those around her. With its focus on the love and support that a close-knit community can offer, the film reminded me of the old adage “it takes a village to raise a child” (which appropriately originated in Africa, a Google search tells me). However, although charming and moving in parts, for me it did tip over into mawkishness at times.

The film was a naturalistic study in love and resilience, but although described as a family film, I would hesitate to show young children such a potentially upsetting movie, especially if you don’t fancy answering a bunch of impossible questions afterwards. And if you’re looking for an escape from the grit and sadness of life, say, during a massive, seemingly never-ending pandemic, then I really can’t recommend watching this film, though I imagine it could be cathartic for some.

Supa Modo won the Film Africa 2018 Audience Award and is dedicated it “to everyone who has suffered loss”.

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