'The Boda Boda Thieves' ('Abaabi ba boda boda'): Film Review

The Boda Boda Thieves Still - H 2015
Courtesy of SIFF

The Boda Boda Thieves Still - H 2015

Neorealism comes to Kampala

A Ugandan riff on "Bicycle Thieves."

Ugandan filmmaker Donald Mugisha reportedly learned his trade making hundreds of music videos in East Africa, but there's little flashy about his The Boda Boda Thieves, a mean-streets parable about a son who loses the motorbike his impoverished family relies on to survive. Poor choices beget big trouble here, building to a conclusion that is easily read as indicting not just one character's dishonesty but that of corrupt officials onscreen and off. The film should find support on the festival circuit, but other Stateside prospects are slim.

Hassan Insingoma plays Abel, aka Spike, a 15 year-old who's hanging out with the wrong kind of people while telling his parents he's looking for work in town. His father makes money by taking passengers around on a motorbike (the "boda boda") owned by a local big shot, but buses are killing his business, and he owes the man a lot of money. When an injury leaves him unable to drive, Abel takes responsibility for the boda boda.

Abel's passengers aren't ordinary townsfolk, though. He's helping his wiry buddy Lex (Saul Mwesigwa) and friends commit petty crimes, then squandering his take on frivolous luxuries and booze. One drunken night, he loses the bike under mysterious circumstances; he and his mother begin to scour the city for it as the bike's owner grows increasingly impatient for the money he is owed.

The cast of non-actors does a respectable job here, but the action is less involving than it might seem on paper; only toward the very end does the tension onscreen match the stakes of the drama. The film's resolution is ambiguous both in the moral ways it probably intends and some practical ways it likely does not.

Production company: Augenschein Filmproduktion

Cast: Hassan Insingoma, Prossy Rukundo, Saul Mwesigwa, Michael Wawuyo, Peace Birungi

Director: Donald Mugisha

Screenwriters: Donald Mugisha, Wanjiku S. Muhoho, James Tayler

Producers: Donald Mugisha, Sarah Muhoho, James Tayler

Director of photography: Carol Burandt von Kameke