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I Dreamed of Africa

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: I Dreamed of Africa

Starring: Kim Basinger, Robert Loggia
Director: Hugh Hudson
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: May 2000
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Liam Aiken, Garrett Strommen, Eva Marie Saint, Daniel Craig, Lance Reddick, Connie Chiume, James Ngobese

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

"I Dreamed of Africa" is based on the autobiography of Kuki Gallmann, a privileged white woman who left her home in Italy to travel with her new husband to his ranch in rural Kenya. The central thrust of the story is that the world does not really possess a garden of Eden. When you travel, you =

have yourself with all your hangups as a companion: the literature of psychology is loaded with texts about how you cannot escape from yourself. Furthermore in Kuki Gallmann's case, the very dangers of Africa were to cause great hardship and tragedy to her family, perhaps beyond any misadventure she would have experienced had she continued to inhabit her privileged life in Europe.

The author, who still lives on that ranch and who set up a foundation dedicated to the conservation of the continent's resources, is the subject of a film directed by Hugh Hudson which appears a sincere attempt to remain true to Gallmann's actual life and adventures on the continent. Unfortunately that earnestness is the problem with the movie. As we watch Kim Basinger inhabit the role of the resourceful Kuki, dealing with both her joy in being able to change her life and her spirit in coping with family disaster, we are privy to virtually no real adventure. A situation involving the calamity brought about by a large, poisonous snake which her son had cruelly kept in captivity along with other, non-venomous reptiles, is such a variation from the languid, National Geographic-like tone, that we are startled for the only time during the course of the 113-minute, virtually humorless drama.

Contrast this film with one that inevitably comes to mind for comparison, "Out of Africa." That 1985 film directed by Sydney Pollack and featuring the superior acting of Meryl Streep as Baroness Karen Blixen--a Danish woman who marries her lover's brother--is chock full of the intensity missing in Henry Hudson's staid adaptation of Kuki Gallmann's book. To borrow the opening paragraph of Robert Ebert's "Out of Africa" review: "....there was a moment when a lioness seemed about to attack, but did not....Now the lioness seemed about to charge, when behind her a calm voice advised the baroness not to move one inch. 'She'll go away," the voice said, and indeed the lioness did skulk away after satisfying its curiosity." This bit of luck does not last for long, however. At another point, a lion charges from another direction and the baroness must drop the big cat with one shot that must not miss."

Since none of these confrontations ever occurs on the ranch owned by Gallmann's husband, we're left with simply a sedate and sober travelogue with stilted dialogue (husband and wife talk to each other as though they were composing Hallmark cards) and confrontations which are set up but never executed.

"Out of Africa" takes place when East African countries were attracting European settlers who were bored with their lives in Europe in the years around World War I, where they flocked to the highlands of Kenya with cool air and the possibility of raising cattle. "I Dreamed of Africa" gathers its momentum some time after that. In the story, Kuki Gallmann, an attractive, widowed woman of some wealth, is almost killed in an auto accident on an Italian road. At that point, the poor little rich girl decides that she "has stopped growing" and, having married Paolo (Vincent Perez), she takes leave of her frightened mother Franca (Eva Marie Saint), gathers up her adorable little boy Emanuele (Liam Aiken) and heads to Paolo's Kenyan ranch to start a new life. =

Though Kuki ultimately sets up a foundation for conservation, we see no other evidence of the "growth" she seeks, but we must trust her own words when she says that she continues to find great joy in her move from her urban, cultured civilization to a place in which her dog is killed by a lion roaming just meters outside her home, her husband is badly hurt in a hunting accident and later mugged and beaten, she is left alone for several days at a time as her macho man heads out with his pals into the jungles with their rifles, and a terrible fate befalls her only son. =

If we did not know any better, we might suspect that this film--shot largely in South Africa but also in parts of Kenya and in Italian towns like Asolo and Vicenza--was made as a propaganda piece in favor of white supremacy on the dark continent. The two principal servants of the household look up to the owners as though they were gods; private planes fly them at their will, in some cases to transport their growing boy to a British-style prep school, in others to access help during emergencies. In one case, Paolo gives some swift kicks to one or two men who have been captured by the Kenyan police for poaching, a gesture which--while showing us that poaching is a vicious crime--could make us wince at the racial implications. Kenya is, after all, not the land of the white man.

Kim Basinger is freighted with labored dialogue and appears in virtually scenes as though she had just emerged from a four-hour session at Revlon's in New York. "I Dreamed of Africa," which to Kuki is on balance a wet one, is a nightmare that could cause many a potential tourist to cancel his safari reservations. We must simply trust Ms. Gallmann, who at one point relates by e-mail to readers of her book, (, "Africa is healing, because it still has what most of the world has lost, and in its ancient beauty and wisdom, in the mystery of its nature and extraordinary people, one can find a purpose." When she talks to her husband or to her son, she sounds like this, too.

(C) 2000 Harvey Karten,

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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