After 45 minutes of nothing happening in “I Dreamed of Africa,” I found myself wishing the animals would start attacking people.
This is Kenya, after all. If you’re not going to show us some interesting characters and allow us to grow with them as they go through their own personal journeys, well, then at least let one of them get eaten by a lion.
No such luck. “I Dreamed of Africa” adamantly refuses to give in to the action/adventure mentality, insisting instead on going the route of “human drama.” Which is fine, except that the humans in question are far from compelling, and the things that happen to them fail to arouse emotion or connection.
The film, apathetically directed by Hugh Hudson and based on a true story (a boring true story, apparently), begins in Europe in an unspecified year. (Forty minutes later, long after everyone’s moved to Africa, we find out that Italy is where they started. We never do learn the time period. We also never learn why the main character and her mother — both clearly non-Italian — are in Italy, or where they’re actually from. You’d think a movie that is so conscientiously not plot-driven could find the time to tell us these things. I can think of several 10- or 15-minute chunks that could have been omitted, for example, if it would have allowed time for these details.)
Single-mom Kuki (Kim Basinger) is in a car accident, and while recuperating, falls in love with her friend Paolo (Vincent Perez). They get married and move to Africa, with Kuki’s little boy Emanuele (Liam Aiken) in tow, despite Kuki’s mother’s (Eva Marie Saint) fears that Kenya is no place for a young family.
But Paolo’s dad had a ranch there, which the threesome takes up residence at and begins fixing up. Over the course of many years, they have trouble with poachers, lions, the weather, and snakes. They also have trouble with the fact that Paolo cannot sit still: He has to go out hunting for days at a time, leaving Kuki to handle everything herself. But she still loves him. Or so we’re told.
That idea, along with just about everything else, is told to us rather than being shown. The movie has so little happening that when something DOES happen — when a character dies, for example — it’s hard to feel anything. We never get inside Kuki’s head, or anyone else’s, to find out what makes them tick.
Kuki’s mom eventually tells her that Africa has “brought out the best” in her. But how? We don’t even know what Kuki is like NOW, let alone how she USED to be. She keeps saying that she “needed” to go to Africa. Again, why? What was wrong with her life before? If the movie knows, it’s not telling us.
Basinger does all she can with what she’s given to work with, but mostly all that means is looking concerned and care-worn. She and Perez might have had chemistry as a couple, if the script allowed them any real time together.
All of which makes it very hard to enjoy this film, which frequently appears as though it will never end. The African scenery is breathtaking, and the cinematography is first-rate. But when the characters’ minds and motivations are frustratingly closed off to us, all we’re left with is the dim hope that something adventurous will happen instead. And when it doesn’t, there’s no hope left at all.
C (; )