Hugo Pratt was one of Europe’s most popular illustrators, best known for his adult comicstrip hero Corto Maltese. “Hugo in Africa,” made with the blessing of Pratt’s executors, Cong, is helmer Stefano Knuchel’s hagiographic exploration of Pratt’s seminal African escapades. Knuchel is too caught up in a kind of boys’ adventure story to properly analyze his subject, and Jean Luc Bideau’s theatrical narration tries too hard to be the audience’s friend. A reasonable familiarity with Pratt’s work is almost essential, limiting exposure primarily to Euro cable.
Venice-born Pratt moved with his family to Djibouti during Mussolini’s fiasco in the Horn of Africa. At 13, he was signed up for the army, and the experience sparked a fascination with the military and also cemented an almost spiritual bond with the land and people. His series “The Desert Scorpions” was a direct result, but Pratt’s time in Africa formed his personality as well as his art. How much this white Italian was really able to become one with the Ethiopians is questionable, but Knuchel has a fine eye, and unreleased footage of Pratt is nicely incorporated; intertitles, however, are unnecessary.