out of Five
Running time: 88
Engaging, smartly paced comedy adventure with strong performances and a decent script, but its tightrope-walking approach to a succession of issues doesn't quite work and the film ultimately topples into the sentimentality it's been trying to avoid.
What's it all about?
Directed by Debs Gardner-Paterson, Africa United stars Eriya Ndayambaje as fast-talking Rwandan 13-year-old Dudu, who's overjoyed when his best friend Fabrice (Roger Nsengiyumva) is offered the chance to try out for the World Cup opening ceremony. Acting as Fabrice's manager and roping in his sister Beatrice (Sanyu Joanita Kintu), Dudu organises a trip to the try-outs but events take a disastrous turn when they get the wrong bus and narrowly escape being forced to become child soldiers in the Congo.
However, Dudu refuses to give up hope and convinces his friends that they can make their own way across the country to South Africa. Along the way, they're joined by resourceful teenager Foreman George (Yves Dusenge) and teen sex worker Celeste (Sherrie Silver).
Ndayambaje delivers a lively, engaging performance as Dudu that essentially carries the film and lends the plot an infectious sense of energy. He also has sparky chemistry with both Nsengiyumva and Kintu and there's strong support from Dusenge and Silver.
The film is beautifully shot, with Sean Bobbitt's colourful cinematography making strong use of the stunning scenery. Similarly, Gardner-Paterson includes some delightful animated sequences to illustrate the story that Dudu makes up about their adventures as they go along.
The script takes an intriguing approach to a series of different social issues (e.g. AIDS, child prostitution, child soldiers and class differences) in that it raises them and attempts to show how the children accept them as part of their everyday lives and that life goes on: there is no comment on Celeste having been a sex worker, for example, and neither does she seem especially traumatised by it.
However, the film can't resist taking a nosedive into sentimentality towards the end that doesn't really ring true – moreover, it seems to suddenly become the ISSUES movie it was trying so hard to avoid.
On top of that, the film's not quite as funny as it thinks it is, though at least it's consistently entertaining.
Africa United is a well made, appealingly acted children's adventure, though it's neither as funny nor as moving as it should have been.