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Sunday, December 3, 2000
Wide Angle

Into the Dark Continent
By Ervell Menezes

THE White Man has always been fascinated by Africa which used to be known as the Dark Continent. Whether it was H. Rider Haggardís King Solomonís Mines or the experiences of Jane Goodall (Gorillas in the Mist) or Karen Bilxen (Out of Africa) that element of romance has always been associated with that unknown land and its wealth of wildlife and its quaint cultures.

I Dreamed of Africa is the latest in this line of chronicles. Based on the novel of the same name by renowned conservationist Kuki Gallman (known for preserving the black rhino), it is a moving story of a woman who decides to make Africa her new home, despite the overpowering odds she had to contend with. It is also a story of diverse cultures.

When Kuki (Kim Bassinger), a young divorcee, falls in love with and marries her driver Paolo (Vincent Perez) and decides to make a new life in Africa, her aristocratic and snobbish mother France (Eva Marie Saint) objects strongly. "You say freedom to make it sound noble, but it is wilfulness," she tells her daughter but later learns to live with the idea and even visits Africa.

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Vincent Perez and Kim Bassinger in I Dreamed of AfricaIt all begins when Kuki and her friends, driving home from a late-night party, meet with a freak accident. Hospitalised, she is regularly visited by her seven-year-old son Emanuele (Liam Aiken) and her driver Paolo whom she falls in love with and marries. All this takes place in Italy before they set out for Africa.

As a child, Kukiís father used to tell her wondrous tales of Africa and since Paolo too has an African connection they decide to make it their new home. In the beginning, Kuki is in awe of the nature, transformed by the sense of freedom and the wide Kenyan landscapes. But the honeymoon does not last long. Paolo goes on long hunting trips with his buddies. He drinks heavily and they quarrel. Poachers add to her problems.

"It is a different rhythm," says the script writer and director Hugh Hudson (Chariots of Fire) does well to capture the African ambience. And he has an eventful story to narrate but in films of this nature it is hard to do justice to both the place and the story but Hudson tries hard and succeeds to a point. Kuki is a strong character and has the heart of a pioneer and her chequered existence forms the meat of this film.

An unscheduled visit by a lion or a rogue elephant lurking around the corner provide enough excitement but it is nature in its pristine beauty that appeals most. Next comes the wide gulf between the White Man and the Africans.

It may not be absorbing all the time but it has its dramatic moments and for those Africa-buffs it should have a special appeal. Kim Bassinger does an excellent job getting under the skin of Kuki Gallman and she is ably supported by Vincent Perez as her impetuous husband. Liam Aiken and Garrett Strommen do well in portraying Emanuele at different times and Eva Marie Saint has a brief cameo but when all is said and done, despite the powerful emotional moments, it is Africa that comes out the winner.

May be there are a few Kuki Gallmans and Jane Goodalls but the majority of the Whites have certainly exploited the Africans. It is the age-old theme of manís exploitation of his fellow men. And that is really soul-shattering.

In lighter vein and mainly for ballet buffs is Centre Stage. What goes into the making of a prime ballerina? Years of sweat and toil, no doubt. But first, one must have the talent. Then comes the grit and determination. Remember Turning Point, a mid-1970s movie with Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft in it? It really got to the underbelly of ballet as it touched on the arch rivalry between two ballerinas.

Centre Stage may be degrees lower but it has its moments. Basically it is a conflict between American Ballet Companyís artistic director Pratt Jonathan (Peter Gallagher) and Cooper (Ethan Steifel), an ambitious star dancer whoís beginning to choreograph and would like to set up his own company. Caught in this crossfire are the young ballet hopefuls, including the narrator and heroine Jody (Amanda Schull).

Does oneís personal and professional life overlap? What about the emotional factor? All these are rather well dealt with by director Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) and may be he meanders around the middle but he does make up for it with a competent climax. Eva Rodriguez (Zoe Saldanha), a coloured Latin American, is easily the best cameo in the film and reason enough to sit through its duller moments.

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