BY MIRIAM RINN
Based on a true story of an 84-year-old Kenyan villager who is determined to learn to read, “The First Grader” is often shamelessly manipulative, sometimes surprisingly affecting, and most of the time, uncertain of the tone it’s trying to establish.
When Maruge hears that the government has announced free primary education for everyone, he heads to the village school to register. The old man, played woodenly by former television anchorman Oliver Litondo, joins the hundreds of children trying to sign up for a small country school. Although he’s sent away, kindly at first, and then with more impatience, he won’t give up and returns over and over, even cutting his pants off at the knees when he‘s told all students must wear the same uniform. He finally finds a sympathetic listener in the young principal, Jane Obinchu (British actress Naomie Harris, from “Pirates of the Caribbean) who lets him join the class. She even allows him to sit in the front when she learns that his eyesight isn’t good enough to see the board.