A.B.C. AFRICA (Abbas Kiarostami, 2001)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

As joyous as it is heartrending, as hallucinatory as it is real, A.B.C. Africa is by Abbas Kiarostami. The Iranian film was shot in Uganda, using two digital cameras, over the course of ten days. It documents both children who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic and the Ugandan women who have assumed their care. In addition to its struggle with HIV-AIDS, Uganda has been beset with civil war for two decades now. The AIDS crisis has left 1.6 million children without one or both parents. (While wreaking havoc in Iraq, the United States joined Russia and China in keeping the Ugandan crisis off the United Nations Security Council agenda.)
     The film opens with the sound of the arrival of a fax, followed by the fax itself, to Kiarostami, from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, thanking him in advance for the attention that his trip will bring to the Ugandan crisis. This “outgoing fax” is being received: a symbolical reciprocation between Kiarostami’s familiar world and the unfamiliar one he enters, which the film documents.
     The first caregiver we meet is an elderly woman who works to support herself and the 35 children under her care, most of them relations. All eleven of her own offspring are dead from AIDS.
     Much of the film, however, simply observes the children. The younger boys interrupt their play to mug for the camera; they shout, dance and gesticulate. Teenagers, though, seem to penetrate the camera with a sullen gaze. Later, all dressed in yellow, kids clap and sing.
     A brilliant shot traverses a wire fence on which colorful clothes hang, drying. The camera stops. Through the fence, we see a woman folding laundry on the lawn. The camera’s approach is stopped by the fence. So close; so far away.

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