Ricky is one of the paraplegic musicians in intriguing doc.
BENDA BILILI! (Renaud Barret, Florent de La Tullaye). Subtitled. 85 minutes. Opens Friday (October 14) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. See listing. Rating: NNN
At the heart of the uplifting doc Benda Bilili! is Roger, a skeletal-looking kid who produces reverberating sounds from an instrument he made from just a milk can, an arched piece of wood and a wire. He's plucked from the tough Kinshasa streets by the filmmakers and introduced to Staff Benda Bilili, a ragtag band of paraplegic musicians.
That's just one example of how directors Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye make their movie happen. They also finance studio time for these eclectic musicians to bring their tribal sound to a wider audience, and eventually find a label that allows the Congo natives to travel to Europe.
The directors' intimate and puppeteer-like relationship with the band doesn't take away from the film's celebratory pulse and lively rhythms, though it does prompt questions about what was omitted or doctored. You have a sense that you're not getting the full story about these undeniably fascinating and talented people.
But the music speaks volumes about who they are and where they come from, as when the Staff sing about sleeping on cardboard while dreaming about one day buying mattresses.
Even more intriguing is what's glimpsed in the Congolese background: streets always on the brink of violence and kids who ache to rob the cameraman when they're not musing about the meaning of white-man stories like Adam and Eve.