If you can handle the doses of saccharine, Africa United is an enjoyable feel-good film. While the narrative is fairly run of the mill, Africa United distinguishes itself from many others films from the continent by being light-hearted and incredibly positive.
Fabrice dreams of becoming a footballing superstar. When he is spotted by a FIFA scout, the teenager, with his young manager Dudu and Dudu’s little sister Beatrice, embark on an incredible journey from their home in Rwanda to South Africa for the World Cup finals…
At heart, the film is about the friendship between the young group. This is constantly reiterated throughout Africa United, with the friends frequently referring to themselves as a ‘team’. Of course, this is in keeping with the football theme. There are numerous references particularly to the English Premiership in the film. Viewers should have at least a basic awareness of football in order to appreciate a number of the jokes.
The narrative is straightforward, combining elements of the road trip movie with the childish camaraderie of films like The Goonies. At times the dialogue sticks, with some of the sentimental moments feeling more like children’s television than a feature film. Nevertheless, this does not detract too much from the overall enjoyment of Africa United.
The main characters in Africa United follow certain archetypes. Dudu is the leader; his enthusiasm really carries the group at times. The story seems particularly coming of age for Fabrice, who learns to follow his dream and stand up to his mother. Foreman George, meanwhile, seems built in the mould of the scarred soldier. It will come as no great surprise that each of the characters develop throughout their journey.
The best parts of the film are Dudu’s story telling sequences. They are a joy to watch, combining a variety of different effects to produce memorable animated scenes. The story telling in these sequences is also enjoyable, as Dudu narrates a fantastical version of their journey.
Sanyu Joanita Kintu is adorable as Beatrice. Yves Dusenge seems well cast in his role as Foreman George; he reflects the pensiveness required of the character. The group has great chemistry, particularly Eriya Ndayambaje as Dudu and Roger Nsengiyumva as his best friend Fabrice.
Bernie Gardner’s music seems the perfect accompaniment for the on-screen action. The original music reflects the vibrancy of the visuals. Director Debs Gardner-Paterson does a decent job in this her feature-length debut.
Africa United is an uplifting film that should be received well by all audiences, but especially by children. Given that a portion of the proceeds goes to charity, the film deserves to do well.
Africa United is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.