Duma (DVD) (WS)
Set in the exotic country of South Africa, this powerful adventure film tells the story of the unbreakable friendship between a cheetah named Duma--the Swahili word for male cheetah cub--and an intrepid young boy named Xan (Alexander Michaletos), who faces the true test of love when he must cross the whole of southern Africa to return his best friend to his rightful home in the wilderness. On his journey, Xan learns that everything always changes, but not love.
This African tale follow the rhythms of director Carroll Ballard's earlier films The Black Stallion
and Fly Away Home
, namely a child is drawn into the mysteries and magic of an animal. Xan (newcomer Alexander Michaletos) is a 12-year-old living in South Africa with his parents (Campbell Scott and Hope Davis, who appeared as a much different couple three years earlier in The Secret Life of Dentists
) when they find an abandoned baby cheetah. They bring it up as their own and name it the Swahili word for cheetah, Duma. After some time, the creature is too big to stay domesticated and Dad tells the boy they will have to journey back to Duma's home to set him free. A sickness makes the family pull up stakes and head to the city where Xan and Duma don't fare well. Xan must take Duma on his own to set him free. To tell more would be a crime. As with any Ballard film, the story is subtext, the visuals rule. First-time cinematographer Werner Maritz fills the screen with the desert landscape and is able to capture the magnificent speed of the cheetah. Ballard's films seem to build on their own inertia, creating scenes that seem to be simply happening instead of scripted, although this often suffers in the balance of wonderment versus all-too-lucky occurrences. Based on the children's picture book/memoir How It Was with Dooms
by Xan and Carol Cawthra Hopcraft, this is a film worth seeking out, especially for families and kids above 5 years old. --Doug Thomas