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Kuki, a divorced Italian socialite, changes her life after a serious car crash. She accepts a marriage proposal from Paolo Gallmann, a man she doesn't know well, and she moves to Kenya with him and her young son to start a cattle ranch. Challenges beset her, not the least of which is Paulo's love of danger and his leaving for days on end to hunt and fish with pals. She must face fierce storms, roving lions, venomous snakes, and murderous poachers, and she must find accommodation with a neighboring tribe. Her mother entreats her to return home. Can Kuki live her dream, tame Paolo, guide her son safely past the perils and errors of youth, and serve Africa? Written by
Magnificent scenery emphasized at the expense of the story
This film was a fluff piece that succeeded better as a showcase for Kim Bassinger and Africa's natural beauty than it did at telling this true story. The first hour of the film was a succession of Kodak moments depicting the romantic splendor of Africa and how idyllic it would be to live there. Although they showed the occasional storm and threatening wild animal, every effort was made to emphasize the positives. They glossed over little things like the oppressive heat (Kenya straddles the equator but no one in the film ever broke a sweat), insects (not a mosquito in sight), and the fact that the rainy season is three months long and it often rains nonstop for weeks. The first hour seemed more like an advertisement by the Kenyan ministry of tourism than a feature film. It wasn't until the second hour that the story really centered on the characters.
Filming Africa is a cinematographer's dream. Unfortunately, Director Hugh Hudson seems to have been so enamored with creating beautiful photography (and it was truly magnificent) that he rushed through the dramatic elements to get to the next helicopter shot of wild animals loping across the plains. Many of the important dramatic scenes were not allowed to fully develop, giving a snippet and then cutting away to a completely unrelated scene. This took much of the impact out of the film. One example is the egg hanging over the bed. A big point was made over the fact that Paolo had put something in the egg. Yet, we never learn what it is. Why tease us with this tidbit if he is not going to follow through?
The film had strong conservationist undertones, but they were tastefully done and not overly preachy. The point was made that poaching to hunt elephants for ivory is illegal and unconscionable, but it was presented in a way that wasn't strident and smug. The scenes of dead elephants made the statement in a poignant way, much better than any dialogue could have.
Kim Basinger was excellent as Kuki. She went with a more natural look which was very flattering. The understated makeup used in the film revealed that even at 47, she is still one of the most beautiful women on the planet. However, after a three-year hiatus since L.A. Confidential, she delivered her second consecutive acting triumph, proving that she is more than just a pretty face. Her acting was far more genuine and mature than any role I had seen her play before. After having read an interview she gave about the film, it is clear that Basinger is a strong conservationist and naturalist and she identified strongly with her role, which imbued her performance with great conviction and believability.
This film was good, but it could have been much better. I rated it a 7/10. The locations and photography were marvelous, but the story's power was frayed by inattention to basic filmmaking tenets. If Hudson had spent more time developing the characters and creating continuity for the story, it would have been an exceptional film.
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