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A Tale of Africa (1980)

Afurika monogatari (original title)
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Credited cast:
Kathy
Philip Sayer
Heekura Simba
...
Old Man
Eleonora Vallone
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1981 (USA)  »

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The Green Horizon  »

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In an interview, James Stewart said that he and his wife were vacationing at a game preserve in Kenya when they came across the filmmakers shooting this picture. He said he was persuaded to make a short appearance, speaking a few lines, because he thought it would help to promote wildlife conservation. "Never did understand what it [the film] was all about", he said. "I did it on a whim." See more »

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Existential eco-drama
28 August 2010 | by (bangkok) – See all my reviews

James Stewart was being coy if he said he agreed to appear in this, his last film, while on holiday in Kenya - it's not a cameo, he's in it all the way through and has the lion's share of the dialogue - what there is of it. The film is by Sanrio - the giant corporation that brought us Hello Kitty, and who were making films at that time in emulation of Disney. Hani, a director with some cult films under his belt, was presumably told to go to Africa and make something with lots of cute animals. There are animals galore - nothing but animals in fact for about half of the two-hour film - beautiful photography throughout - and that gives it an atmosphere all its own.

The pace is mesmerisingly slow and at times it feels like Clare Denis. There's a beautiful teenage girl (billed only as Kathy) living with her reclusive grandfather (Stewart) in the forest on the edge of the savannah. The dim light inside their lodge is gorgeous. Lots of cute animals roam in and out - a kind of Daktari Monogatari.

A light aircraft crashes in the wilderness and after a desperate time, including getting caught in an impressive wildfire, the survivor comes across the girl, who is given to wandering around with hippy joie-de-vivre among the lions and wildebeest. The old man repels the new arrival at first but after a further disaster - a rainstorm, even more impressive - reaches rapprochement. The whole things seems to convey an existential message.

The acting though is awful - Stewart looks uncomfortable when he speaks to someone and gets silence in return - and the storyline is bland, but the girl with her husky voice is winning and the animals about the house, including Tikki the mongoose - who gets a tragic moment - are great. It's a children's film, but there's none of Disney's archness and preachiness, only a quiet, drifting, philosophical melancholy that weaves a memorable spell. This would have been my favourite film for a while, as a 12 year-old.


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