Africa United

Africa United


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

Africa United is a simple, feel-good road movie that seems comfortable with its shortcomings. It still has the confidence to ask you, things being what they are, is your day going to be a grumpy or a happy one?

The African 2010 World Cup is looming. Fabrice (Nsengiyumva) is a young Rwandan from an affluent family, less interested in his schooling than in honing his prodigious football skills. His best friend and ‘manager’ Dudu (Ndayambaje), a poverty-stricken street kid living on his wits, is ever-present to marshall him onwards. When a FIFA scout invites Fabrice to audition in the capital Kigali for the World Cup’s opening ceremony in South Africa, Dudu seizes the moment. He gathers his younger sister Beatrice (Kintu) and all three sneak onto a bus for Kigali.

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By the time they realise they hitched the wrong bus they’ve ended up in the Congo. Knowing that they’ll miss the audition they decide to head straight to Johannesburg for the actual ceremony instead, some 3,000 miles away. Along the way Foreman George (Dusenge), an ex-child soldier, and Celeste (Silver), a fleeing sex worker join their mini ‘Africa United’ team.

Flaws abound in the story but it knows what it is and where it's trying to get to, much like its plucky little Fellowship of the Ball. Nsengiyumva’s Dudu is the star, a vibrant bundle of naivety and youthful resourcefulness, his exuberance pushing everyone’s dragging heels onwards. Along the way he tells his team a story to keep them occupied and colourful animated sequences bring this to life, periodically breaking up the journey. This is just as well, as without it their odyssey would further fracture credibility and seem all the more episodic.

All the team have simplistic arcs that are resolved with varying degrees of convenience. There’s much less to the people they meet and some of the imagery along the way is heavy-handed, but this is best embodied by Dudu’s makeshift football. An inflated condom in a carrier bag bound by pillaged string sums up the resilient, homespun spirit of both the film and the countries director Debs Gardner-Paterson seems keen to capture. A Rwandan citizen who’s travelled much of Africa, she seems well placed to portray the warmth and threat of the children’s changing physical and social worlds.

Africa United ticks off some serious issues, such as child soldiers, HIV, poverty, economic crisis and exploitation. It gives little commentary or address to any, but this is only ever a family film and on that level does more to at least highlight these concerns than any ex-premiership player awkwardly bumbling through a shanty town. A share of the profits are supporting Comic Relief, so perhaps it's leaving the weighty campaigning to them while it celebrates the more positive and aspirational spirit that the young Dudu inspires. It only goes for the obvious buttons, but they’re brightly coloured and pushed with cheery vigour.

Reviewed on: 15 Oct 2010
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Africa United packshot
A group of children try to reach South Africa in time for the World Cup.
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Director: Debs Gardner-Paterson

Writer: Rhidian Brook

Starring: Roger Nsengiyumva, Sherrie Silver, Eriya Ndayambaje, Yves Dusenge, Sanyu Joanita Kintu

Year: 2010

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: UK, Rwanda, South Africa


London 2010

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