Friday, February 8, 2008

War/Dance **

Director: Sean Fine, Andrea Nix
Set in the Ugandan village of Patongo, this documentary follows a group of school children preparing for the National Music Festival where they will be competing for the first time.
For a region of the country that has been ravaged by war for decades, this event seems to bring hope which the filmmakers exploit to the ultimate level.
Three of the kids become "protagonists" and share awful stories about how they lost their families and were forced to live in a camp away from their birthplaces, but the scenes are so glossy and beautifully shot that it becomes possible to doubt the veracity of the subtitles.
In one scene, one of the kids learns that a rebel leader has been captured and is being held in a local military camp.
He heads out there and, after getting in with no restrictions, he sits down with the prisoner and in a moment that would make Oprah proud asks him to explain why are they so evil.
A moment that could've been more effective with simple narration becomes so staged and manipulative that it loses all of its potential effect.
Later the same boy reveals to the camera how he was forced to kill some farmers, "you are the first I tell" he confesses. Not anymore kid.
After a first half that gives us every possible reason to pity these kids and feel moved by their situation, the second part portrays them as a "Bring It On" group of mildly vicious competitors who move on the idea that they have to win by all means.
And after all how could one not root for the war torn team, with a film crew following them?
While they're at the competition, which features some beautifully shot cultural performances, one of the trainers proclaims how the children "exceeded their own expectations".
The children overcome insecurities (sparked by insults relating to their origins), defy curiosity and give good performances that have no connection to the sappy anecdotes the filmmakers shot.
And here you realize that you have been watching a film that had absolutely no faith in the talent of Patongo and relied on cheap sensibility to make us root for them.
Too Benetton like to feel explosive and too dark to be "The Sound of Music", the film was made by grabbing every possible social theme (war, Africa, orphans, education, violence, competitions) mixing it in a pot and trying to work with whatever came out of it.

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