One of the big African productions of the year, "Kini & Adams," by Burkina Faso director Idrissa Ouedraogo ("Tilai," "Samba Traore"), has two ambitions: to convey the warmth and humanity of black rural life in a South African outback, and to film it as a powerful widescreen epic. In the process, fluidity and feeling for the characters suffer. Though flawed, pic remains something of a landmark for African filmmaking, both in the scope of the production and its international look. Lensed in English in Zimbabwe, it should grab a share of the international market despite lukewarm reviews. Kini (Vusi Kunene) and Adams (David Mohloki) are best friends. Though penniless farmers, they share a dream: to get a beat-up old car running again and use it to move to the city and start life over.
It’s clear from the start that this is a pipe dream, for Kini is married to the stern Aida (Nthati Moshesh) and has a little girl to take care of. But the men’s lives change when a nearby stone quarry is reopened, bringing them jobs and regular salaries. It allows them to get the jalopy moving but splits apart the buddies when Kini is promoted to a position of responsibility while Adams remains a simple worker.
Working with a top South African cast, Ouedraogo strives to bring out the elemental human themes of male bonding, love between men and women, and conflicting loyalties. As the story builds, jealousy and passion explode into classic tragedy that is too predictable to have the impact intended.
One cares about the characters, particularly Kini and Adams, and the perfs are excellent. But scripters Ouedraogo, Olivier Lorelle and Santiago Amigorena have provided overly simplistic motivations, and the terrible end of the duo’s friendship in the pic’s contrived climax seems less like the hand of fate than the heavy hands of the writers.
Plot gambits including a set of stolen keys are telegraphed so far in advance it’s a relief when they finally arrive. A little more imagination would have gone a long way. Also distracting is the uncomfortably blocky editing, which has a hard time keeping scenes flowing into one another.
Kunene and Mohloki deliver warm, full-bodied perfs, and it is a tribute to them that Kini (the smart one) and Adams (the emoter) emerge as 3-D characters. As Kini’s no-nonsense wife, the frail-looking Moshesh is a rock of solidity who holds the family together. John Kani is multifaceted as the ambiguous quarry foreman, who dignifies Kini with status while he subtly undermines his moral fiber.
Shooting in impressive widescreen, cinematographer Jean-Paul Meurisse creates a world of immense natural spaces, verdant rolling hills interrupted by isolated shanties and a powdery white quarry dotted with colorful workers. His work allows Ouedraogo’s strong feeling for visuals to shine through in every scene. Wally Badarou’s fine music score has the kind of breadth the film keeps reaching for.