Femi (Sam Adewunmi) a British-Nigerian boy, enjoys a happy childhood in Lincolnshire, where he’s raised by doting foster mother Mary and surrounded by a tight-knit group of friends.
However, soon his real mum reclaims him and deposits him into a very different life in her small inner-London flat.
With little emotional bond to his mother (Gbemisola Ikumelo) and no remembrance of their cultural heritage, Femi struggles to adapt.
As he gets used to his new environment, Femi hardens himself, pulling away from the wishes of both of his ‘mothers’ and forging ahead in a brazen attempt to build his own identity.
Writer/director Shola Amoo pairs a lived-in honesty with a fresh, exciting stylistic panache in this depiction of the crooked –and at times perilous – path to manhood.
The lyrical texture of Amoo’s filmmaking both visually and aurally expresses the changes in Femi’s internal state.
This unflinchingly unsentimental coming-of-age film consistently defies our expectations of what will happen next.
A Cinematic Experience with Relatable Themes
This is quite a gritty yet captivating coming-of-age narrative.
Though the movie itself adapts quite a dark/murky tone, it is not dominated by the doom and gloom.
We seamlessly observe how an innocent boy finds himself in the wrong crowd.
Director Shola Amoo tactfully steers away from using overt profanities, violence and gore to emphasise the grit and harsh reality.
Whilst we have seen narratives of strayed youths in films like Kidulthood, Amoo focuses on the plight of British African youths.
In addition to Femi, we also see how other characters are striving to survive in life. For instance, a girl with a blue-platted hair gets picked on for being different.
Then there is the gangster Mace (played by Demmy Ladipo) who feels that pursuing a life of crime is better than working for ‘white companies’. Thus, survival is another key theme in the film.
It is refreshing and pleasing to witness a mainly black cast in a British film. It is high time that such representations happen more frequently.
In addition to the cultural depiction, it is the themes of self-discovery and identity which really strikes a chord with the audience.
We, as viewers, are taken on Femi’s journey of trying to find himself and overcome his inner demons.
A scene that leaves a huge impact is when Femi lashes out at his teacher. After a gradual build-up, we finally see his outburst.
It’s almost as if the teacher becomes like a paternal figure for Femi and this sequence will certainly bring a tear to the eye.
Credits go to Sam Adewunmi and Nicholas Pinnock (who plays the teacher) for their sincere performances.
Also, a special mention goes to the smooth and picturesque cinematography. This is visually appealing and yet matches the mood of the film.
The Geographical Locations Seem like Additional Characters
The two cities/geographical locations of Lincolnshire and London reflects the change in Femi’s life.
From playing in the open fields to being restricted within the school playground, Amoo presents the transition of the pivotal character seamlessly.
As such, camera shots of the car passing by the rural landscapes to it cutting straight into the motorway and city environment.
His home in the countryside is bigger, signifying his wholesome childhood.
However, moving into his mother’s small flat in the city foreshadow how his life will soon get confined.
It’s almost like these two locations are additional characters that help to exude the shades of our main protagonist.
What could’ve been better?
Cinematically, the film scores big points. However, it seems as though the ending was prolonged.
It could’ve ended at least 10 minutes earlier than the original run time and that would’ve been a more satisfying watch.
Plus, the reason why Femi’s father left him could’ve been explained in a more clear way and at an earlier point in the film.
Overall, The Last Tree is a poignant and cinematic gem. Shola Amoo competently takes us on a boy’s journey and it leaves us resonating with him.
The universal themes of self-discovery and identity will enable audiences from all walks of life to relate to the film.
It also helps to change our perception towards the youth of today. Rather than judging and scorning at them, we will instantly remember Femi and how that can be anyone’s story.
Undoubtedly, it is one of the finest movies to screen at this year’s Sundance Film Festival London.