Opening 12 Jan 2006
Bumbling British diplomat meets very angry Chelsea chick moonlighting as a human rights fighter. Diplomat falls like a mosquito squashed on your windshield as you zoom down the highway. After a lovely afternoon in Tessa’s Chelsea house, surrounded by her very posh possessions and expensive clothes, they are suddenly married and pregnant and we are all in Africa. Justin Quayle (Ralph Fiennes) is oblivious to Tessa’s (Rachel Weisz) reasons for searching Kenyan villages while he attends meetings. Worse, he cannot guess that her activism compels her to expose the complicity between the certain elements of the foreign office, corruptible African officials and Big Parma, at the expense of conceivably everything dear to her. Her adolescent passion for justice not only results in her being charred to death but in the senseless deaths of others. Nor does it change anything for the Africans she so deeply cared about. If throughout their short-lived marriage Tessa’s adolescent self righteousness overwhelmed Justin’s very being, her death can do no less.
Excellent actors, including wonderful supporting players like Bill Nighy, Danny Huston and Pete Postlethwaite and a fine director like Fernando Meirelles cannot save this film from its own teenage crisis. Is it a documentary? A love story? A thriller? A travelogue? The director’s frenetic shots of Africa’s savage beauty and the mesmerizing soundtrack courtesy of the Massai traditions distract us from the film’s potential message. This reviewer did not read the book, but to the film’s credit, it raised two very pertinent questions: what are the roles, limits and responsibilities of governments, diplomats, industrialists, and citizens in a globalized economy? Is our behavior influenced by our place in the “food chain”? Does this matter? (Rita Pearson Schwandt)