By Jeffrey M. Anderson
In his first full-fledged documentary since Homework (1989), the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami journeys to Uganda, ostensibly to warn about the inhumanity of AIDS and the thousands of children orphaned as a result. But ABC Africa is unexpectedly humane and lovely and not at all preachy. Kiarostami begins with a little journalism, interviewing a few locals about the epidemic. He interviews an Austrian couple that adopts a wide-eyed African baby. But mostly he lets his camera play across the faces of the children. They are enthralled by the director and his camera; they flock around, poking their smiling faces in the lens, and even performing a little. In one startling sequence, Kiarostami films in absolute darkness, after the electricity has been cut off at midnight, trying to get back to his room. Most of this exploratory, experimental stuff would have been cut out of any other documentary, but Kiarostami knows that life goes on, and so he leaves it all in. He gets the rhythm and color of this place without condescension and without too many talking heads. Significantly, the message comes across even clearer.
DVD Details: New Yorker’s DVD looks terrific — it appears that they’ve transferred Kiarostami’s digital video footage straight to the DVD without going through film sources or film negatives. As an extra, the DVD includes a superb 55-minute documentary on Kiarostami and his career so far. The great film critic and Kiarostami scholar Jonathan Rosenbaum is among the interviewees.