Made to benefit UNICEF and the World Food Program, “All the Invisible Children” is the latest omnibus film produced for a worthy cause. The subject is underprivileged and exploited children. From Africa to China, Brazil to Brooklyn, the harsh lives of these ignored and thus invisible children are movingly illustrated. Directors Spike Lee, Ridley Scott, Emir Kusturica and John Woo, who contributed four of the seven episodes, each 16 to 18 minutes long, should generate enough interest to get film buffs, fests, cable webs and pubcasters aboard.
That said, most of the stories have a didactic or sentimental quality that keeps them from being unforgettable. A case in point is the opener, “Tanza,” by Algerian novelist and director Mehdi Charef (“The Girl From Keltoum”). Tanza (Adama Bila) is a 12-year-old freedom fighter who runs through the countryside with a band of rifle-toting, steel-eyed boy guerrillas. Struggling not to specify the country where the action takes place, Charef has the boys spout painfully memorized English dialogue that makes no sense at all.
Cinematographer Philippe Brelot’s breathtakingly beautiful landscapes and picture-perfect village actually were shot in peaceful Burkina Faso, giving the story an unreal abstraction that distances rather than broadens its impact.
Emir Kusturica doesn’t strain for a new subject in “Blue Gypsy.” The rollicking brass bands and slapstick shtick of “Time of the Gypsies” and “Black Cat, White Cat” reappear on schedule in the story of Uros (Uros Milovanovic), a bright boy who decides to break with his drunken, violent father and family of thieves. The central issue is the lack of choice offered by the boy’s environment, making the juvenile detention center a relative paradise compared to the outside world. To make his point, however, Kusturica gives the unfortunate impression that all Rom are thieves.
“Ciro,” the Italian episode directed by co-producer Stefano Veneruso, addresses the problem of stereotyping head on. The title character, played by young Daniele Vicorito, is the unloved child of a down-and-out mother. He has little alternative but to hang out on the outskirts of Naples with other disenfranchised boys. When he steals a Rolex off the wrist of a driver stuck in traffic (Ernesto Mahieux), onlookers self-righteously demand the incarceration of all the trash like him. Maria Grazia Cucinotta, another of the film’s co-producers, puts in a liberal word as she slinks by in a signature cut-out dress.
Like most of the other episodes, Spike Lee’s “Jesus Children of America” illustrates a typical social ill, yet the performances and carefully reconstructed Brooklyn setting draw viewers into the story through a touching finale. Blanca (Hannah Hodson) is cruelly tormented at school because her parents are junkies. When she learns she is an AIDS baby and is HIV positive, her fragile teen world collapses. Lee depicts the slum environment realistically, and Rosie Perez is heartbreaking as Blanca’s loving but imperfect mom.
In “Bilu and Joao,” Brazilian helmer Katia Lund, co-director the favela tale “City of God,” has real feeling for the small boy and girl who traipse around Sao Paulo pulling a wooden cart on which they collect paper and aluminium. Happily, Lund gives their harsh life an upbeat slant by showing how there can be satisfaction even in the humblest job, which in this case seems almost subhuman. The episode’s success owes much to the brave spirit communicated by child actors Vera Fernandes and Francisco Anawake De Freitas.
The only seg that really goes for something unexpected is the one directed by Ridley and his daughter Jordan Scott, “Jonathan.” The title character, a war photographer played with trembling hands and anguished eyes by David Thewlis, offers an adult perspective through which to view a band of East European war orphans. Unfortunately, story abruptly ends with some puzzling quotations. Still, its contrast between the magic bliss of a middle-class childhood and the horror of survival as a child of war has the unreal horror of an Ambrose Bierce story.
John Woo constructs “Song Song and Little Cat,” pic’s concluding episode, around the simple contrast between a rich girl and a poor one. Song Song (Zhao Zicun) is the pampered, unhappy only daughter of parents who are splitting up. Little Cat (Qi Ruyi), found in the garbage as an infant by a homeless man, helps her protector scrounge for food until he is killed. Skillful camerawork and detailed set design give the story a depth that goes beyond the cliches it’s based on, while the two tiny girls manage to emerge as real characters.
Four years in the making, film was the brainchild of MK Prods. producer Chiara Tilesi. Directors, who donated their work to the project, were given full freedom and final cut rights.