One Fine Day Films is a venture between German and Kenyan filmmakers, starting with the brilliant SOUL BOY in 2009, where film talent from Germany – headed by director Tom Tykwer (RUN LOLA RUN, CLOUD ATLAS) – mentors and workshops film ideas with Kenyan filmmakers. From these projects have emerged some of the best films from East Africa, notably NAIROBI HALF-LIFE and SOMETHING NECESSARY (both of which have opened the Cambridge African Film Festival). KATI KATI is the next film in the One Fine Day portfolio and lives up to the excellence of previous productions; simply constructed, but with such a strong story and subtle, unassuming filmmaking that one forgets that this was made with a minimal budget and an inexperienced cast and crew.
Kati Kati is a type of purgatory – not Heaven or Hell, but somewhere in between – in the afterlife. The place itself is like a lodge or hotel, where souls find themselves with no explanation or reason, although it may be years after they have died. No one knows how these souls reached this bleak and isolated location, surrounded by African bushland, or how they can ever leave. Souls just seem to come and go without warning. The film opens as Kaleche finds herself here, confused and inquisitive, amongst a number of other souls waiting for what they don’t know. She forms a special bond with Thoma, the longest running resident at Kati Kati; he has been there three years and counting. In this gathering of lost souls, each haunted by demons from their previous life, Kaleche begins to piece together the shards of her own life and the key to leaving Kati Kati.
It is the simple way that a complex idea is told that makes it work.
KATI KATI is terribly simple in its execution. How complicated does it need to be with a story that revolves around a group of people in a hotel, trying to figure out how to leave? It is the simple way that a complex idea is told that makes it work. The filmmaking feels classic in its approach; no special effects or CGI, but only tricks in the photography and editing that show ghosts appearing one minute, and gone the next. In this way, KATI KATI has a timeless cinematic quality. Like all classic films, this could have been made in any time period.
Opening with a stark, white frame, Kaleche dissolves into focus, surrounded by nothing but bushland. The intrigue of the film begins in this first frame. We never discover where she comes from, and nor do we need to know. The audience is drip-fed information and cleverly never gives anything away. There is no explanation of the ‘rules’ of Kati Kati – especially how you might leave – only interpretation. As a viewer you do begin to pick up what is going on, if you pay attention. It feels like a relief in today’s film world for the filmmakers to assume an intelligent audience. This is partially due to seeing the film from Kaleche’s point of view; herself a sharp and inquisitive soul, seeking out answers at every step. Her character, and those around her, take shape and it is this that moves the film forward – each character was clearly fully formed before the camera was switched on. The soul’s previous lives are extremely interesting, particularly because they are only revealed through the appearance of ghosts – again, no flashbacks or overt explanation of any sort – that haunt them, so the audience gets only pieces of their lives and deaths; some more horrific than others. That is not to say that there is a drabness to the characters – in fact, subtle humour and even fun moments, drift in and out of the film, giving the characters an adrift, but human, realness.
KATI KATI is an extraordinary work of film art…
KATI KATI successfully catches a quiet, eerie and isolated atmosphere. This quality is achieved with a sparse script and low-key, atmospheric music which sets the emotional tone of the whole piece. The landscape is desolate and lonely, with dull, khaki colouring in the background of every shot, which in turn pulls the characters sharply into focus in the foreground. It is as if this place could be anywhere, that it has been forgotten and is so far removed from life that the souls will never escape. This highlights the ambiguity of the film as a whole.
As frightening as it is funny, and as mysterious as it is revealing about universal truths, KATI KATI is an extraordinary work of film art; using classic techniques to tell a beautiful and thought-provoking story of love, loss, life and death.