Monday 22 January 2018

Movies: Benda Belili! * * * *

(PG, Limited Release)

Congolese band Staff Benda Belili
Congolese band Staff Benda Belili

Paul Whitington

We all need stories of hope at the minute, and they don't come much more hopeful than Benda Belili!

Filmed over six years in the backstreets of Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, by French filmmakers Renaud Barret and Florent De La Tullaye, the documentary recounts one of the most unlikely success stories you'll ever come across.

While filming in Kinshasa in 2004, the film-makers came across Staff Benda Belili, a street band presided over by a man called Ricky.

Ricky and most of his fellow band members are disabled, mainly as a result of childhood polio, and get about on wheelchairs improvised from bicycle parts.

In a city riven by poverty, they are the poorest of the poor, outcasts who sleep on cardboard boxes in Kinshasa's Zoo and have few reasons to be hopeful.

But they love their music, and over a period of five years they record an album that makes them stars in the Congo and feted guests at Europe's music festivals.

Barret and De La Tullaye made the film with little money, and shot it on grainy video, but Benda Bilili's story rises effortlessly above that and makes it a genuinely moving and inspiring documentary.

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