IFFR Review: AFTER THE LONG RAINS is a Whimsical Kenyan Tale of a Little Girl With Big Dreams

In Damien Hauser’s poignant and visually captivating “After the Long Rains,” we are transported to the coastal town of Watamu, Kenya, where we meet Aisha (endearingly played by Electricer Kache Hamisi), a ten-year-old girl with dreams that soar far beyond the confines of her traditional community. Guided by an unwavering determination to become an actress in Europe, Aisha defies expectations and redefines her own path in life.

The story unfolds as Aisha receives a school assignment that prompts her to contemplate her future. Discontent with the idea of merely inheriting a familial role, she embarks on a transformative journey of self-discovery.

Along her path, Aisha interacts with a cast of intriguing supporting characters, each adding a layer of complexity and depth to her coming of age. Pivotal is Hassan, an enigmatic local fisherman who serves as a mentor and confidante, providing Aisha with guidance and support as she navigates the challenges and triumphs of her pursuit.

These encounters collectively, often imbued with a sense of heightened reality, or as apparitions, further enhance the film’s dreamlike ambiance, providing it with a quality reminiscent of fables and fairy tales.

Unfolding against the backdrop of Watamu’s lush greenery and vibrant coastal beauty, the film’s cinematography is a visual feast, showcasing only a glimpse of Kenya’s rich landscapes and transporting viewers into Aisha’s world. Hauser whimsically captures this captivating blend of precociousness and ambition, painting a vivid portrait of a young girl who dares to dream big.

Furthermore, the filmmaker’s musical compositions seamlessly blend traditional Kenyan sounds with elements of European classical music, creating an evocative soundtrack that perfectly complements the film’s otherworldliness. This blend of musical styles reflects Aisha’s connection to her cultural roots while also embracing her aspirations to reach beyond the boundaries of her community.

At the heart of “After the Long Rains” lies a profound message of empowerment and self-expression. Its whimsy is juxtaposed with serious commentary on gender roles and societal expectations, resonating with the themes of a recent notable Kenyan film, “Supa Modo” (2018) directed by Likarion Wainaina. Looking Westward, “After the Long Rains” also shares some thematic and stylistic similarities to Benh Zeitlin’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012).

While all three films are unique in their storytelling, characters, and settings, they converge in their broader exploration of childhood dreams, resilience, and the power of imagination, centering young girls as protagonists.

“After the Long Rains” intertwines themes like patience and life’s challenges, beautifully weaving into the narrative the metaphor of rain clouds to represent burdens and relief as alluded to in the title. Hauser has crafted a film that is both entertaining and thought-provoking, told with visual flair, and a rich tapestry of cultural and thematic elements that will leave an indelible mark on audiences.

“After the Long Rains” is making its European premiere at the 2024 IFFR | International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Harbour program.