Stirring, but lost something on 2nd viewing and closer analysis
Yes, it's a bit schmaltzy and feel just a little like one of those 'you can save a child' commercials. But this film proves you really CAN save a child, and that even small acts by regular folks can make a real difference in the world.
In this case it was a holocaust survivor, the charming and sweet Hilde Bach, who escaped from Germany to Sweden as a child and grew up to become a school teacher – leaving behind her parents who perished in the camps. Knowing something of how hard life can be, she joined a Swedish program donating $15 a month to help a child in Africa. Little did she know that her money was enough to allow that boy to go on to secondary school, and then in turn get a scholarship o Harvard Law School.
Now he works for the United Nations, heading up a group fighting genocide around the world. Knowing that he would never have made it to where he is without Hilde's kindness, Chris starts his own foundation to help pay for children's educations in his native Kenya, and also sets out to find the Swedish woman he never met, who made his life, and the life he in turn is offering to the next generation possible.
This is all intercut with following three young students hoping to get one of the education grants provided by Chris's foundation. But first they have to score high enough on Kenya's version of the SATs, a demanding and daunting test that determines whether or not a child can even go on to secondary school at all, or is doomed to a life of low-paying manual labor or farming. Knowing there is no way all three can get the award makes it tense, dramatic and sad at times, and there are some unexpected twists along the way.
Ultimately, it's a pretty delightful and empowering film. If it's a little rough around the edges on a film-making level, that's more than balanced by how it gives one a little bit of faith and hope in a world that often seems to do all it can to rob us of feeling that we can change things for the better.
Update: All the above said, it lost a little on second viewing. The emotional manipulation seemed a bit more up front, as I realized how many moments and reaction shots were faked or staged. And I was more bothered by the film's reluctance to question anything and just accept the perfect wisdom of all involved. Why put so much faith in this one standardized test? Why not help more kids, spreading the money out to touch more lives? Why no sadness at so many young lives being basically dumped into poverty from the results of one test? There may be thoughtful answers to these questions, but other than a shrug and somewhat glib 'we can't help everybody' there's not much exploration of these issues. I still send some money to their cause, but I wish the film had still looked a little deeper instead of feeling like an ad.
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