Richly colored, well-heeled village movie, set in today's changing Zimbabwe, "Everyone's Child" scores points with music and lensing, but is ultimately sunk by stiff thesp work and overboard message-making.

Richly colored, well-heeled village movie, set in today’s changing Zimbabwe, “Everyone’s Child” scores points with music and lensing, but is ultimately sunk by stiff thesp work and overboard message-making.

Title is a Hillary Clinton-esque reference to the way even rural Africans are now succumbing to First World apathy and materialism, increasingly putting kids at risk. Story centers on pretty teen Tamari (Nomsa Mlambo) and her younger brother Itai (Thulani Sandhla), whose parents suddenly die, leaving them in charge of several younger siblings, with precious few resources.

Their grouchy uncle Ozias (Walter Muparutsa) isn’t much help; in fact, he walks off with the few baubles and tools they have. Tamari is mildly in love with an itinerant guitarist (Chunky Phiri), but when he hits the road, she gives in to the cash-laden advances of a local shopkeeper and is branded a prostitute by hardened villagers. Itai, meanwhile, skedaddles to the capital, Harare, where his experiences with drugs, petty theft and street gangs, although well staged, are already all too familiar to Western auds.

The attractive cast is handled with sympathy, but the players are severely hampered by helmer Tsitsi Dangarembga’s decision to shoot her story almost entirely in (sometimes phonetic-sounding) English. This brings a formal, sluggish quality to the otherwise gracefully mounted proceedings, and the result is a needlessly long 90 minutes, with about a half-hour’s worth of truly interesting material. The pronounced lack of narrative zip will offset any marketing advantage the pic’s producers (a biracial collective of African and Euro progressives) figured they’d get from the lingo decision.

Still, the first-time helmer a popular playwright and novelist who studied pic-making in Berlin has an eye for sunlit details and a solid ear for African sounds. Both the score and story are helped by Phiri singing his own tunes. (Linking bits with droning synthesizer accompaniment, though infrequent, are more pedestrian.) Pic may play better on music and ethno circuits than in regular fests. Crime and sex-abuse themes are muted enough to make it useful educational fare, and this “Child,” with proper nurturing, could fit into adventurous pubcasting plans.

Everyone's Child

Production

A Media for Development Trust (Harare) production. Produced by Jonny Persey, John Riber, Ben Zulu. Directed by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Screenplay, Dangarembga, Riber, Andrew Whaley , from a story by Shimmer Chinodya.

Crew

Camera (color), Patrick Lindsell; editor, Luise Riber; music, Keith Farquharson; production design, David Guwaza; costume design, Beaulah Guwaza; sound, Bob Hay; assistant directors, Jema Spring, Garikayi Chawasarira; casting, Andrew Whaley. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 11, 1996. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

With: Nomsa Mlambo, Thulani Sandhla, Walter Muparutsa, Elijah Madzikatire, Nkululeko Phiri, Killness Nyati.

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