Sunday, 7 November 2010

Africa United

Slumdog Millionaire was poorly marketed as 'The Feel Good Film of the Year', when in fact it was more a cultural expose aligned with a kaleidoscopic character drama. That vital, multi-faceted storytelling made it a pleasure to watch - and consequently it has opened for the floodgates for commercially packaged, multi-cultural stories.

Africa United, the debut feature of director Deborah Gardner-Paterson, rides very much on its coattails, attempting the same slick blend of social commentary and gripping narrative. Flying proudly under the Pathe and BBC Films banners, it doesn't attain the measure of depth seen in Slumdog but as a brisk, thoughtful odyssey, it fits the bill.

The most succesful moment is the wonderfully quirky opening, as footie fanatic Dudu (Eriya Ndayambaje) lays out both the importance of the game and the importance of contraception - by crafting his own ball out of an inflated condom. It's a brilliantly edgy and thankfully tasteful (though still funny) way to open, and thank goodness Paterson and writer Rhidian Brook continue to straddle the taste divide brilliantly for the duration.

Unfortunately the remainder of the narrative necessitates the story move at such a dizzingly fast clip, it threatens to sacrifice depth for bounce. Accompanying Dudu and a small group's attempts to get prospective soccer star Fabrice (Roger Nsengiyumva) to the South African World Cup 3000 miles away, it falls between two poles: not serious enough as a commentary on African troubles but with flashes of seriousness that hint at more depth beneath its zippy facade. That the characters need to cover so much ground in a compressed time-frame also means it lacks conviction.

Yet the smaller poignant moments resonate far more than the self-consciously quirky ones (Dudu deploying a World Cup wall chart as a map and laying out the metaphorical underpinnings of their journey as an animated fable). Aided and abetted by some brilliantly energetic and compassionate central performances, some late arriving scenes really do wrench the heart and add subtle relevance in superb fashion, reinforcing that solid human drama needs no bells and whistles to truly move.

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