‘Sensitive and vibrant slice of life’

Reality TV and artistically-minded documentaries sometimes share a key feature: a predatory hunt for “worthy” subjects to exploit.

On the brighter side, they also exhibit a fascination with real people living their unique lives.

The approach taken is very much guided by the producer or director.

Shamira Raphaela’s latest piece, Shabu, is filled with kindness, sensitivity of gaze, and a desire to put to screen the ordinary slowly branching into the extraordinary.

In Peperkilp, a distinctive estate in Rotterdam, we meet Shabu, a 14-year-old with a big dream (music), a big mouth (that gets him into various scraps throughout the film), and a big heart (self-explanatory, but important).

His summer plans of recording music, stoking the flames of his growing romance with Stephany, and hanging out with his cousin are suddenly put on hold when he crashes his grandmother’s car and has to pay back his debt.

Through our hero’s natural humour, infectiously cheeky smile, and Raphaela’s artistic direction, we are tugged into the tale, giggling all the way. A banging soundtrack (although at points over-orchestrated) also helps.

Stephany and Shabu floating like film stars on pink inflatables at a waterpark, and the camera following a soaring bird during a tense scene are two examples of how Raphaela keeps the tale firmly in the realm of the cinematic.

The brutality of the setting is painfully contrasted with the sense of community.

The teenagers watch gang violence on their phones and find a crime scene in their building’s lift, but moments earlier Shabu was walking around and talking to everyone as he tried to flog his ice lollies.

The crescendo of community spirit at the end is uplifting, highlighting the complexity of urban living.

This summertime tale blurs the line between non-fiction and film. A scene of reunion between Shabu and his (now forgiving) grandmother does feel a touch too staged, but this is a rare case.

As the sun glints on the many canals and waterways, we are tugged into Shabu’s island, reeled into the trials and tribulations of a person teetering on the brink of adulthood.

Scenes between our young lovers produce a cacophony of laughter from the (slightly) older crowd at the cinema – along with some groans at the teenagers’ awkward attempts at courtship.

So many films and documentaries focus on the rich, the beautiful, or the miserable. But life isn’t always painted in these neon colours, and as humans we crave a peak into more familiar worlds.

Shabu’s music career and dedication to his family and friends are not Hollywood, and are all the better for it.

Having won five international awards already, let’s hope this film can scoop up some more on this side of the pond, as this vibrant slice of real life utterly deserves them.