Real-life father-daughter pair Baloji and Bebel Tshiani Baloji are the pulse of this heartwarming and entertaining Belgian film.
As the titular character Binti, the tween star is especially buoyant and brings a joyful presence to her character, an aspiring vlogger. Her videos are filmed as if from her handheld phone camera, but then cleverly shown as if already edited together with effects.
She's matched by up-and-coming Belgian actor Mo Bakker as Elias, the well-meaning and tender-hearted misfit. There's symbolism in his obsession with a rare species taken from its African homeland by European captors as well as in his own repeated retreat into the forest. The magic of childhood seen in their exuberant playfulness is contrasted with the dire reality of an immigrant child who feels "nowhere is home."
The film constructs a gentle and earnest tale that aims to show the human side to immigration. The physical tenderness between father and daughter is captured with great visual detail.
At risk of being sent "back" to Congo, a country she doesn't know, Binti is portrayed as thoroughly Belgian and insistent that she does indeed "exist" even if she has no papers. Elias's innocent question of why she can't stay in Belgium when there's clearly "plenty of room" is poignant. It's heartbreaking to see Binti and her dad chased or arrested, and it's also heartbreaking to see the pained look of one of the policemen involved.
The film could be considered overly simplistic in some aspects, but it makes a convincing case that these characters deserve humane treatment and a happy ending.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.