Little more than a longform PSA about the horrors of life in AIDS-ridden Malawi, one that asks many questions without providing answers.

More famous for her personal reinventions than her music (or certainly her acting), Madonna now has apparently chosen to morph into Sally Struthers. For all its noble intentions, “I Am Because We Are” is little more than a longform PSA about the horrors of life in AIDS-ridden Malawi, one that asks many questions without providing answers — except, of course, the ministrations of a multimillionaire, and whatever one can donate via her website. Producer-writer’s celebrity might generate some ticket sales, but wide exposure was never in the cards, not will it be, unless the doc gets rear-projected during Madonna’s next concert tour.

It may seem unkind, given the subject matter, but “I Am Because We Are” (title is a Malawi motto of cosmic unity) is overweighted by Madonna’s celebrity, and the fact that her narration is delivered with so little enthusiasm, or at least engagement. The text is also, from the start, rife with banalities: “People always ask me why I chose Malawi. I didn’t,” Madonna says. (Pause.) “It chose me.” Her decision to adopt a Malawi baby — the country has 1 million orphans in a population of 12 million — is generous and kind. But in the context of this film, it feels like part of a script.

There are some truly horrific tales among the several that unfold — individual children are profiled, and their histories are generally unspeakable. Some accounts are so troubling, the film might actually motivate viewers to take action (donate money), which is what it intends. But in the current movie climate, anything remotely related to war, hunger or even unpleasantness seems poisoned, so how can a movie survive when its biggest asset is calamity? And whose makers are so naive as to include as an expert witness economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, whose theories have created the same kinds of conditions that currently infect Malawi?

If it does some good, good for Madonna. On the other hand, docs are chic right now. And her speciality has always been about being in the right persona at the right time.

Production values are first-rate.

I Am Because We Are

U.K.

Production

A Semtex Films presentation. Produced by Madonna, Angela Becker. Directed by Nathan Rissman. Written by Madonna.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Rissman, Kevin Brown, John-Martin White, Grant James; editor, Danny B. Tull; music, Pat Leonard; associate producer, James. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Encounters), April 28, 2008. Running time: 86 MIN.

With

Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Jeffrey D. Sachs, Madonna.

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