Benda Bilili! (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner21/10/2010

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 85 mins

This is a heartwarming documentary that tells an inspirational story and features a terrific soundtrack by the band, but its decision to only focus on two of the band members is ultimately frustrating.

What's it all about?
Directed by Renaud Barrett and Florent de la Tullaye, Benda Bilili! is a documentary about Staff Benda Bilili, a musical group formed by physically disabled and homeless people on the streets of Kinshasa. The group rehearses at Kinshasa Zoo (the only place they can get any peace and quiet) and sing songs about their afflictions and about life on the streets (more than one song seems to be about sleeping on cardboard) and during the course of filming (over four years) they go from gigging on the streets to recording an album and embarking on a wildly successful European tour.

The film makers focus on two band members in particular: founding member Ricky (who everyone calls 'Papa'), who looks after everybody and seems to be a sort of benevolent Godfather figure; and able-bodied Roger Landu, who joins the band at age 12 and becomes a musical star thanks to his extraordinary abilities with a homemade instrument made from a tin can, a piece of wood and some string.

The Good
The story of the band is both heartwarming and inspirational – Roger's story in particular is genuinely moving. The music is terrific too, whether it's impromptu jamming sessions filmed on the fly in the streets or their later concert sequences (you'll be singing the cardboard song for hours afterwards).

The Bad
The main problem is that the film's decision to only focus on two of the band members (aside from a cursory introduction to fellow founding member Coco) is ultimately frustrating, because we correctly feel that there are several equally fascinating and moving stories that are going untold.

Similarly, the structure to the film is rather rough edged, suggesting the film makers just showed up and shot whatever they could get rather than follow everyone for a specific period of time. This is compounded by a lack of onscreen information, so you're unsure when the events are taking place, although Roger's height provides a useful guide.

Worth seeing?
Despite some issues with the structure, editing and the film's limited focus, Benda Bilili! is still a remarkable, heartwarming documentary that deserves to be seen. It'll also have you scouring music shops for the album afterwards.

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Benda Bilili! (PG)
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Content updated: 23/10/2017 01:27

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