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Movie Review

According to the true story recorded in the book I Dreamed of Africa, Kuki, a divorced single mother of Emanuele, falls in love with Paolo in their native Italy. He not only loves her, but loves her son as well. Paolo is restless and longs to pull up roots and move to Africa. Because Kuki’s father has told her stories of that land, she’s open to going once they marry. Soon after the wedding, the new family of three heads to the wilds of Kenya—a land that immediately impresses them with its savageness and natural beauty. But the glamour soon fades. Life is hard. The ranch they purchase is run-down and isolated. There’s storms. There’s wild animals. There’s poachers. And to top it off, Paolo is often gone for weeks at a time leaving Kuki to learn how to light lamps, drive a tractor, fix the plumbing and fight off lions. Far from bitter, however, the Gallmans slowly begin to make headway in improving their living conditions. Then tragedy strikes—not once, but twice. What will Kuki do, return to Italy as her mother suggests or stay on the land? Complicating her decision is the arrival of a new baby girl.

Positive Elements: No dysfunctional mess here. In fact, strong family ties are what ultimately weaves this story together. (It’s even pointed out before the wedding that Kuki’s ex-husband has remarried.) While there are occasions when Kuki gets exceedingly mad at Paulo (she even throws something at him once), it’s clear they both love each other deeply. What’s more, Paulo is a caring stepfather, shown in one tender scene teaching his son animal calls. Yes, he’s gone too much, but even that is clearly portrayed as a negative. The mother-son relationship is also very close ("He is my son. He is my friend") as demonstrated by several embraces and a fun-loving water fight. Only one scene shows a rebellious side of teenage Emanuele and ultimately his lack of wisdom leads to tragedy (a great talking point for families). Kuki and her mother are also close. Franca’s not afraid to admit when she’s wrong, and yet is portrayed as loving, kind, caring and wise. Furthermore, Kuki, in one scene, compassionately and single-handedly builds a dam using an old tractor so that her Kenyan neighbors can have water for their cattle (and to keep her cows from contracting disease).

Spiritual Content: Kuki negotiates with a nearby tribal leader in Swahili, only to find he speaks English. He explains that he learned the language from missionaries, and does so in a way that doesn’t make them sound (as is far too common) as if they were the great-white-enemies-of-native-African culture. [Warning: Plot points revealed.] When Emanuele faces death, Kuki prays to God as she drives her jeep to a neighbor’s home in hope of getting some first-aid assistance. Unfortunately, a funeral setting finds Kuki offering a New Age-like eulogy ("You are the water, you are the air now, you are the sky ... you are this red, dry dust now forever, you have become everything").

Nudity and Sexual Content: Kuki and Paulo (as husband and wife) are shown in their bedroom. He’s undressed and she disrobes (both are viewed from the back). As they passionately embrace, the camera angle reveals Kuki’s breasts from the side. Large museum paintings of female nudes (full frontal) is a backdrop for one early Italy scene.

Violent Content: The bloody remains of a rhino and elephant are shown with ivory and horns removed by poachers. A similar scene of a dog mauled by a lion reminds viewers of the harshness of the wild. A car crash and the aftermath of a wild animal attack both show blood as well. Frustrated that her husband is leaving on yet another trip, Kuki throws a lightweight object at him (yet refrains from throwing the hammer she’s holding). Paulo angrily grabs a poacher by the collar.

Crude or Profane Language: Mild only. One "h---," one "d--n," one "Gawd," and several "bastard[s]."

Drug and Alcohol Content: A number of scenes find the Gallmans and friends drinking beer and liquor. But drunkenness is not part of the equation. One early scene in Italy, however, shows the then-unmarried Kuki and Paulo heading to a bar. Afterwards, the couple and their friends wind up in a car crash. DUI? Apparently not. The blame is affixed to a truck driver who wanders out of his lane. Although no close-up is shown, a teenage Emanuele has a collection of what most likely are beer bottles (dark brown glass) surrounding his bed.

Other Negative Elements: Many characters smoke, including Paulo. Kuki pleads with the teenage Emanuele (and loses) to reconsider keeping poisonous snakes (she should have enforced her own rule of "no poisonous snakes"). Summary: This sprawling 2-hour African epic may be a bit tedious for most teens unless they’re already given to things like long nature hikes and world scenery. Still, it’s too bad the bedroom scene pushed the envelope. It’s certain that the nudity—albeit not explicit—is what garnered the PG-13 rating. All other caveats are minor indeed.

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Kim Basinger as Kuki Gallmann; Vincent Perez as Paolo Gallmann; Liam Aiken as young Emanuele; Garrett Strommen as 17-year-old Emanuele; Eva Marie Saint as Franca (Kuki’s mother)


Hugh Hudson ( )


Columbia Pictures



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