Free” offers a wrenching but fairly standard-issue tale of children left to steal or go hungry on the mean streets of a city, here Dakar. Fantastic young actors almost overcome the weirdly displaced Catholic overlay of script, which comes complete with a mysterious legacy encased in an amulet and a benevolent French doctor (the estimable Richard Bohringer). Despite lead players’ considerable charm, pic’s chances outside festival circuit seem limited.
Tracing three homeless kids, “Free” first follows the intrepid teenage shepherd Hor (Charles Correa) who traverses the Sahel to arrive in Dakar, where his leather helmet, staff and robe connote a pastoral purity that seems incongruous in the hustling capital. His steadfast refusal to steal, even facing starvation, attracts the streetwise Tierno (Mamadou Tall), carpenter turned thief, and his bright, irrepressible 8-year-old sidekick Desire (Siradiou Dia), the heart of this makeshift family. Desire’s death at the hands of local thugs spins Tierno into a hellish cycle of revenge but frees Hor to find salvation in the desert.