Shabu Image


By Bobby LePire | May 12, 2023

Written and directed by Shamira Raphaela, Shabu is a documentary about the titular teenager. 14-year-old Shabu lives in Rotterdam’s famous (infamous?) neighborhood De Peperklip. It is the start of the summer, and the boy has already royally messed things up. His grandma is away, and he drove her car without a license and wrecked it. Now, he must contend with his family’s disappointment, the awkward pangs of growing and use his street smarts and skills to earn enough money to pay back his enormous debt. Is it too much for one teen to bear, or will Shabu’s bigger-than-life personality and upbeat attitude see him through it all?

Shabu moves and feels like a narrative feature more than a documentary. The plot flows very organically but still has that sense of momentum that comes from fictional storytelling. It is quite the accomplishment, as most slice-of-life/observational documentaries are either so free of context they are confusing or so slow it takes a while to get into their groove. Raphaela and editors Lykle Tuinstra and David Verdume can hone in on what makes Shabu so unique and make that the throughline.

“…use his street smarts and skills to earn enough money to pay back his enormous debt.”

Admittedly, there is one sequence that doesn’t make much sense. In the latter half of this 75-minute film, Shabu is in a classroom-like setting with others roughly his age. A kamisa (look it up, the movie does not explain it) is being given to a young man. This is a tradition among the Dutch-Surinamese of the area. But is it a coming-of-age thing? If so, why are they “asked” to give him one? If it’s religious in nature, that does not seem to fit the rest of the context given, despite the prayers happening during it. It ends with a fun dance moment, showing Shabu’s passion for music, which is excellent. But this is the one moment where the observational style lets anyone not in that culture or not versed in it down.

But two things keep Shabu sailing smoothly. First off is the cinematography from Jurgen Lisse, Jefrim Rothuizen, Gregg Telussa, and Rogier Timmermans. They capture the colors and oppressive heart of De Peperkilp vividly. But most important to the film’s success is Shabu himself. Yes, the audience’s introduction to him sets the stage for him to be some sort of delinquent. But nothing could be further from the truth. Shabu is a big-hearted kid who made a costly mistake. His love of rapping and music is infectious, while his connections to those around him showcase just how well-liked he is. Finding such an energetic, optimistic subject with a fascinating summer tale was a stroke of luck for the filmmakers that pays off by the finale. No spoilers, but the ending will leave almost everyone watching crying tears of happiness.

Shabu, the documentary, is as larger-than-life and fun as its subject. It is edited to move unlike any other documentary out there, while the numerous directors of photography capture Rotterdam’s urban sprawl beautifully. The future looks bright for Shabu, and viewers will delight in meeting him, even if it is for one brief moment.

Shabu (2023)

Directed and Written: Shamira Raphaela

Starring: Shabu, etc.

Movie score: 8.5/10

Shabu Image

"…larger-than-life and fun..."

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