Sober bordering on funereal, “The Carrier” is a painterly, poetic docu about a polygamous family in Zambia; the parents are HIV-positive, the women are pregnant and the situation is so dysfunctional that childbirth is a mixed blessing at best. It’s hard to suggest what else helmer Maggie Betts might have done with a subject she clearly cares about. But the movie’s unceasingly morbid tone is unlikely to get it much play, ill serving its attempts to raise awareness about Africa’s AIDS crisis and ways to prevent infant HIV.Using a surfeit of portraiture and a score too melodramatic for the film’s overall aesthetic, Betts tells the story of Mutinta Mweemba, the second of the three wives of Abarcon Mweemba, a farmer in the village of Keemba and an easy villain. His wives — who include Brenda, the first to die, and Matildah, the last to get tested — do the work; Abarcon struts while sitting down. The family’s a lost cause, so any dramatic tension is provided by the fate of Mutinta’s unborn child, a reveal dragged out to the point of absurdity.
A Tent Full of Birds presentation Produced by Maggie Betts, Ben Selkow, Joedan Okun, Benjamin Prager. Executive producer, Roland Betts. Directed, written by Maggie Betts.
Camera (color, HD), Kat Westergaard; editor, Flavia de Souza; music, Daniel Miller, David Della Santa. Reviewed on DVD, New York, Aug. 16, 2011. (In DocuWeeks, Tribeca Film Festival.) Running time: 88 MIN.
Mutinta Mweemba, Abarcon Mweemba, Patrick Nchimunya, Matildah Mweemba. (Tonga dialogue)