A 20-year veteran of the 30-year-old Angolan civil war finds assimilation into the chaotic life of the capital city of Luanda a challenge in the affecting drama "The Hero." Item should receive general film fest acceptance, with some low-key arthouse business possible in advance of decent tube and niche homevid biz.

A 20-year veteran of the 30-year-old Angolan civil war finds assimilation into the chaotic life of the capital city of Luanda a challenge in the affecting drama “The Hero.” As valuable for its glimpses into the life of a country not seen much on the bigscreen as for debuting helmer Zeze Gamboa’s even-keeled approach to a multi-character plot, item should receive general film fest acceptance, with some low-key arthouse business possible in advance of decent tube and niche homevid biz.

After losing his leg in a mine explosion on the battlefield, 35-year-old career soldier Vitorio is discharged from the local veterans hospital after a two-month wait for an artificial limb. Finding little beyond rejection amid the overcrowding and general confusion, Vitorio is appalled when his new leg is stolen as he slept on the streets.

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Manu (Milton Coelho (Santo)) lives with his grandmother, Flora (Neusa Borges), and dreams of being reunited with the father, who was forcibly taken to fight in the war. Falling with buddy Carlos (Prospero Joao) into a rough group of boys, he begins thieving and trades some of his booty for an artificial leg he believes will magically result in his dad’s reappearance. Manu’s descent into juvenile delinquency distresses his teacher, Joana (Patricia Bull), who struggles with influential b.f. Pedro (Raul Rosario) even as she spends time goading Manu into hitting the books.

Eventually, Vitorio, who is being comforted by hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Judite (Maria Ceica), meets Joana. Through a radio interview arranged by Pedro at Joana’s insistence, the ex-soldier has the chance to find both his missing prosthetic and his son.

Gamboa, who cut his teeth on docus, shows an assured directorial hand by managing the multiple storylines with aplomb. Perfs are sincere and affecting, with Diop a strong yet sympathetic protagonist and Ceica noteworthy for her brave mixture of passion and pain in the later reels, as Judite waits in a public square with hundreds of other Angolans awaiting news of missing relatives.

Tech credits are clean, with action bookended by aerial shots of the seemingly endless shantytowns surrounding Luanda. Pic is performed primarily in Angola’s official language of Portuguese, though some perfs appear to be dubbed.

The Hero

Portugal-Angola-France

Production

A David & Golias (Portugal), Gamboa & Gamboa (Angola), Le Films de L'Apres Midi (France) production. (International sales: David & Golias, Lisbon.) Produced by Fernando Vendrell. Executive producers, Catarina Fortes, Vendrell. Directed by Zeze Gamboa. Screenplay, Carla Baptista.

Crew

Camera (color), Mario Masini; editor, Anna Ruiz; music, David Linx, Diederik Wissels; production designer, Lucha D'Orey; sound (Dolby Digital), Gita Cerveira. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Planet Africa), Sept. 15, 2004. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Oumar Makena Diop, Milton Coelho (Santo), Patricia Bull, Neusa Borges, Maria Ceica, Raul Rosario, Prospero Joao. (Portuguese dialogue)
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