Film Review – Africa United

Last week, on my day off, my wife and I went to see the recently released film “Africa United”. It had been previewed at Lausanne 3 in the film festival in Cape Town and I was looking forward to seeing it. We were not disappointed.

Phil Jenkins | 21:48, Sunday, 7th November 2010

Although it never quite makes it as a successor to “Slumdog Millionaire”, it is a warm, positive, 88 minutes of cinema.

Despite stretching plausibility at some points, the sheer charm and cheerfulness of the plot, held together by the central character Dudu, wins you over in the end.
The story is as inspirational as it is simple. Dudu (Eriya Ndayambaje) is a young football fanatic from Rwanda who dreams of going to the World Cup in South Africa with his best friend Fabrice (Roger Nsengiyumva). Unexpectedly, Fabrice is invited to compete for a place in the tournament’s opening ceremony after a FIFA scout notices his amazing football skills. What begins as a bus ride to the trials in Kigali becomes an epic journey of 3000 miles to Johannesburg.

The original trio (Dudu, Fabrice and Dudu’s younger sister) start to pick up new team members along the way. They meet up with a traumatised child soldier from the Congo, Foreman George, and a resilient young prostitute called Celeste. The five bond together in a marvellous expression of the “ubuntu” that comes through the laughter, hope and determination of making an incredible journey together.

Although it is light in touch, the harsher realities of Africa are not ignored. HIV Aids, child soldiers, trafficking and poverty are all encountered but through the childlike naivety of the main characters who remain undeterred and optimistic throughout. The twist in Dudu's fortunes at the end of the tale only adds pathos to an endearing, natural performance. His string of malapropisms (“the world is our ostrich”), his infectious smile, and creative imagination provide the glue for a sometimes clunky production. But it is an uplifting film – not afraid to show hardship as well as celebrating achievement – set against the backdrop of this magnificent continent.

At one point in the film, when the team is on the verge of abandoning their dream, Dudu lectures them from his hospital bed. “This is not about me, it's not about you, it's about us.” It is that warm heart of Africa that speaks powerfully through a vision of “Africa United”.  To my mind, it also reflects the real sense of community in church life that is described in the New Testament. We find this hard to experience in the West, with our fragmented and individualised expressions of church, and we are much poorer for it.

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