Film Review: Africa United
Football has done itself few favours of late. From Wayne Rooney’s bumper new contract to the latest player sex scandal, the stories have become depressingly familiar.
Thankfully Africa United uses the beautiful game to tell a more remarkable tale; one that travels the length of a continent, taking in the good and the bad along the way.
Fabrice is a football-mad teenager whose silky skills are spotted by a FIFA scout. He is invited to try out for the World Cup opening ceremony and brings savvy young orphan Dudu along for the ride.
Dudu’s little sister Beatrice joins them on an epic 3000 mile journey from Rwanda to South Africa, as the three friends set off with just a World Cup wall chart for a map.
During their travels, they pick up child soldier Foreman George in the Congo and survive being shot at during a jeep chase with rebels.
The children see the many different parts of Africa, snaking through lush, green jungle and over sprawling rivers, via waterfalls and shanty towns.
When they rescue young sex slave Celeste from a manipulating resort owner, the team is complete and Africa United is born.
Events are played out through a variety of funny and light-hearted sketches, although the film has its serious moments too. It touches upon many of the issues that Africa is currently facing.
The effects of living with HIV, malaria and poverty are seen through a child’s eyes. The scarcity of things we all take for granted like health and education, add a sobering perspective.
The film skilfully handles these subjects through its charming characters, with Beatrice’s prayers for food and medicine providing a window into the reality of millions.
The effect of war is etched into two of the film’s characters. In one scene Foreman George tries to come to terms with the atrocities he was forced to commit, after being taunted by his former tormentors.
Meanwhile, Celeste tells how she ran away from her family who fell from royalty into poverty and arranged to marry her off in exchange for six cows. “In war, even a king can lose his wealth.”
Each character has their own issues to deal with yet still supports the others. Friendship and teamwork shine through. These children have to make tough decisions and it is striking how responsible they have to be while still so young.
Africa United has lots of touching scenes and plenty where you could shed a tear. But there are many laugh-out-loud moments too and overall the film radiates an overwhelming sense of hope.
Much of the light relief comes from Dudu, the cheery, self-styled manager of the team. He lifts the mood with his odd sayings, each delivered with an infectious grin; such as:
“There are a thousand ways to skin a fish,” or “As proud as a parrot.”
The film’s rhythm is kept up by the continuing thrill of the chase. Football is used to move the story along throughout, from the makeshift ball Dudu fashions using a condom, plastic bag and string, to a penalty shoot out with the guards at the South African border.
The young cast really impress, delivering a tale packed with triumph over adversity in a refreshing and revealing way.
Roger Nsengiyumva, who plays Fabrice, has even shared some of the on-screen experiences in real life. He arrived in Norwich aged just nine, days after his mother Illimunee fled the genocide in Rwanda that killed his father.
One of the film’s producers spotted the 17-year-old by chance during a trip to Norfolk. While visiting his mother-in-law he read about Illimunee’s story in a local magazine she kept for him.
After successfully trying out for the part, Nsengiyumva made the long journey back to his homeland to shoot the film. Much like his story, the end of this charming movie will leave you tinged with sadness but full of joy.
DIRECTOR: Debs Gardner-Paterson
WRITER: Rhidian Brook
CLASSIFICATION: UK: 12A
RELEASE DATE: 22/10/2010
RUN TIME: 88 min