leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
Based on the memoir by Italian expatriate Kuki Gallman, Hugh Hudson's lavish family epic chronicles Gallman's transformation from timid, pampered hausfrau to the sort of woman who routinely chases elephants from her garden. Pretty, feckless Kuki (Kim
Basinger) is raising her 7-year-old, Emanuele (Liam Aiken as a child; Garrett Strommen as a teen), in her mother's palatial Venetian home; abandoned by her husband, Kuki's life is a humdrum round of pointless parties. But while recovering from a devastating car crash, Kuki begins imagining a
different life, her thoughts always circling back to her father's childhood stories of Africa. Thank heavens for handsome Paolo (Vincent Perez), who proposes marriage and whisks his new family off to a rundown ranch in Kenya! Through her dealings with wildlife, poachers and other harsh realities
of bush life, Kuki discovers strengths she never imagined. Though beautifully acted by Basinger (everyone else is relegated to a supporting role), there's a strange vagueness to much of this sumptuous, stunningly photographed melodrama; it's at no time clear how old Kuki is meant to be, let alone
when various events transpire. This may be deliberate, meant to evoke Africa's timelessness, but it feels a bit lazy. And that Basinger's rosy skin in no way resembles that of a white woman who's spent years in the African sun is a quibble, but as hard to ignore is Kuki Gallman's supremely
privileged origins. Moving though her story is, the fact that she always has the option of packing up and leaving takes the edge off her desperate battle with Africa's brutal realities; they're far more brutal for the Africans who live at the edges of the Gallmans' spread. Still, Hudson and
Gallman both aim for the heart rather than the head, and this is heart-wrenching stuff.