Genre: Comedy Director: Debs Gardner-Paterson Cast: Eriya Ndayambaje, Roger Nsengiyumva, Sanyu Joanita Kintu RunTime: 1 hr 26 mins Released By: Shaw Rating: PG Official Website: -
Screening Dates:9 Jun 2011
Synopsis: AFRICA UNITED tells the extraordinary story of three Rwandan children and their bid to achieve their ultimate dream - to take part in the opening ceremony of the 2010 Football World Cup in Johannesburg.
On the way to the vital selection trial, disaster strikes when Fabrice, Dudu and Beatrice board the wrong bus and cross into the Congo. Without papers, money or a believable story, they are escorted to a children's refugee camp. But with considerable ingenuity and sass (and a World Cup wall chart for a map), our pint-sized heroes escape the camp and set off in pursuit of their dream, picking up along the way a “dream team” of displaced kids, who help them negotiate a series of thrilling and hilarious adventures.
During their 3000 mile journey, we encounter an Africa few people ever see; experience an epic adventure across seven countries; and feel the joy, laughter and hope that comes from making an incredible journey together.
AFRICA UNITED is a dramatic, heartfelt and enchanting story set to enthrall family audiences worldwide
There’s more than a hint of “Slumdog Millionnaire” in “Africa United”, an underdog tale of three Rwandan children travelling almost 3,000 miles by themselves to South Africa. It’s the summer of 2010, and the whole Africa is in the throes of the World Cup fever. It isn’t just the journey that recalls the Danny Boyle film, but also the vivid manner in which this is shot, the brisk pace at which the plot unfolds, and the fearless attitude it has towards different social issues that makes the comparison inevitable.
Nonetheless, while director Debs Gardner-Paterson may certainly aspire to, her film never quite reaches the same dizzying heights as “Slumdog”. That’s not to say that it’s bad- certainly it isn’t- but Paterson’s tale lacks the emotional panache that made Boyle’s film such a resounding success. Yes, despite repeating Boyle’s formula of pitting pint-sized heroes against life’s adversities, it is nowhere as emotionally engaging as “Slumdog”- though not for a lack of trying.
Certainly, a film that begins with one of our heroes, Dudu (Eriya Ndayambaje), improvising a football out of a condom, some string and a yellow plastic bag is not without its charms. That’s apparently how the impoverished in the Rwanda have made done with their United Nations (UN) supplies. Dudu’s best friend is the budding football prodigy Fabrice (Roger Nsengiyumva), whose skills with the ball are noticed one day by a talent scout.
Thus begins their journey, together with Dudu’s sister Beatrice (Sanyu Joanita Kintu), to the tryouts in South Africa- though thanks to Dudu’s folly, the trio land up instead in a refugee camp in Congo. While held in the camp, they meet the taciturn teenager Foreman George (Yves Dusenge) who saves them from being recruited as child soldiers into the rebel army. Yes, it takes gumption to introduce the subject of civil war into what is essentially a family movie, but writer Rhidian Brook does just that, albeit with a fair amount of sugar-coating.
That’s not all- later on, the motley group will also meet Celeste (Sherrie Silver), a young teenage girl working as a waitress. Brook treads very carefully here, and while there are hints Celeste may have been exploited sexually, the script largely leaves it hanging. Paterson though does lead them to an AIDS clinic where Celeste is seen especially apprehensive about taking the test. The treatment of the social issues it raises may seem too simplistic, but like “Slumdog”, Paterson‘s approach is to show how normalised these have become in the lives of the Africans.
Lest you think the film gets too heavy-handed, rest assured that this is still largely a family-friendly affair. At its core are themes of friendship, loyalty and hope, the group of travellers calling themselves “Africa United” and encouraging each other along the way to persevere on their arduous journey across lakes and over mountains. Interspersed within various points of the film is also an animated story narrated by Dudu, using folk legends passed down from generation to generation in the continent.
If the film has an irrepressible exuberance, it has its cast to thank. Ndayambaje in particular, gives the film much of its infectious zest, his happy-go-lucky attitude and witty wise-cracks the source of most of the film’s humour. He also shares a nice rapport with Nsengiyumva, and you’ll find yourselves almost effortlessly rooting for the pair to reach their destination. Dusenge and Silver also pull in strong supporting perfs, though the film’s message of hope for their characters seems a little forced.
But despite its good intentions, “Africa United” doesn’t deliver the same thrilling emotional victory that “Slumdog” gave its viewers. There was probably never a doubt as to the film’s happy ending, and Paterson doesn’t let us feel as keenly how dearly the characters yearn to reach their World Cup goal. It’s a brisk and fun little story nonetheless, but given its inevitable comparisons to “Slumdog”, it’s a bit of a disappointment for those expecting as much.
(Even with a lively exuberance and an energetic young cast, this African underdog tale can’t quite live up to its expectations as the next ‘Slumdog Millionaire’)