Starring Eriya Ndayambaje, Roger Nsengiyumva, Sanyu Joanita Kintu, Yves Dusenge, and Sherrie Silver
Directed by Debs Gardner-Paterson
Written by Rhidian Brook
Reviewed by Lynnette Porter
A few films in the From Britain With Love series deal with friendship thoroughly tested during a journey, a universal theme perfect for bridging cultural gaps among audiences. In Africa United, the journey begins with two teenaged boys who share a love of football (soccer to us in the U.S.). This shared interest transcends their very different economic and social backgrounds and propels them on a life-affirming journey.
Tryouts are a first step toward their “dream for the team”—a youth football team gathered by FIFA for the World Cup’s opening ceremony. After making a wrong turn, “manager” Dudu Kayenzi and “star” Fabrice Kabera decide to complete the journey from their home country of Rwanda to the World Cup in South Africa.
It sounds like an impossible dream to make the 3000-mile journey, much of it on foot. Indeed, the power of the dream is another theme woven throughout this film. Dudu dreams of soccer saving the world from all its evils; the opening scene shows the 13-year-old turning a condom, plastic bag, and string into a soccer ball while explaining why football is even better than sex. Throughout the film, Dudu weaves a story about the power of football, and his story/dream is told via brightly colored stop-motion segments.
In a continent torn by AIDS and war, this sports analogy makes more than “kid sense.” Whereas affluent Fabrice’s mother sees education as the way for her son to become a doctor in America, Fabrice only wants to excel in football. Street-smart orphan Dudu and his sister face the same choice between sports and education as a way to a better life. Whereas Dudu sees the World Cup as the high point of life, Beatrice longs to become a doctor and prays for books.
Africa United well illustrates the dreams of many young people. During their journey to South Africa, Dudu, Fabrice, and Beatrice gather George and Celeste, who also want to escape their current lives for something better.
This combination road trip and coming-of-age film may not be all that surprising for the themes and conflicts it tackles. However, the African scenery, from broad lakes to lush jungle to rolling hills, provides a stark contrast to the worlds of villages, refugee camps, HIV testing centers, and metropolitan centers. American audiences may not have seen or really thought about the lives of teens like Dudu or Fabrice, Beatrice or Celeste, but Africa United strives to bring together international audiences as much as it unites these broken, brilliant characters.
For many Americans, Africa United will be both heartwarming and eye opening.
My rating out of five stars: