Sixteen (London Film Festival 2013)
Teenagers are unpredictable and inversely affected by the early years of their life, so it’s unsurprising that Jumah is still haunted by his past as a child soldier in Congo. The role, taken up by Roger Jean Swngiyumva, is the central hook of Sixteen, a downbeat drama about the hardship of running away from demons when aspects reappear in London.
Rob Brown, in his first feature film, has Jumah living with his adopted mother, a nurse played by Rachael Stirling. The city’s grimy setting is coupled by Jumah’s run-ins with local criminals, both one-dimensional in behaviour and as a narrative device.
Sixteen delves into ultra self-serious territory with plodding silences and Jumah staring wistfully into the distance. However, the unnatural tone is more of a consequent from some unconvincing acting; pauses are the wrong length, while the cast stumble with thinly written characters.
A quick search for Rob Brown’s biography reveals his history comprises of short films, which is perhaps where Sixteen belongs: as a small snapshot of the difficulties of adapting to a new environment. As it is, the Rubik’s Cube on Jumah’s bedside table is the only thought-provoking element, rather than any of the social commentary.
Sixteen is making its world premiere as part of the London Film Festival’s “First Feature Competition” strand. Screening information can be found here.
80 mins approx
Roger Jean Nsengiyumva