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"We are all part of the river of life"
on 30 May 2006
Viewers will probably we unable to get to the end of the exquisite Duma without having a tear in one's eye. I was a sopping mess most the way through as I watched one of 1995's most stunning movies. Duma opens with some close-ups of adorable cheetah cubs, so instantly you're captivated, but the film is so much more than cute.
Duma is also a fabulous story of the mysteries of human existence, the often-indefinable search for home and the habitual harshness and ruggedness of the animal world. It's a soulful, piercingly beautiful movie, a film of rare beauty as it tells the story about a boy and his cheetah, a boy and his patrimony, and his search to reconnect after calamity befalls him.
Xan (Alexander Michaletos), and Peter his father (Campbell Scott) live on a farm in South Africa. One night after hurtling through the countryside in a vintage sport scar they spot a cub in the center of the highway. After plucking the cub from danger, Xan brings the rescue home, where his mother, Kristin (Hope Davis) tends to the precious little animal.
Encouraged by Peter, Xan domesticates the cat, Duma, who quickly grows into a soccer-playing, motorcycle-racing wonderment. Now named Duma the time soon comes for him to be let back into the wild, After all, what is cute today will become the wild, veracious thing of tomorrow.
However, tragedy strikes before Peter can help Zan set him free, and what follows next is nothing short of astonishing. The boy and the cheetah end up tearing across the desert on Peter's motorcycle (with Duma in the sidecar), treacherously alone. When they run out of fuel and then water, they soon meet a wayfarer named Rip (Eamonn Walker) who comes equipped with a bush baby and an obscure past.
The three then embark on an epic journey, sort of Huck Finn like across the harsh African wilderness hoping to find a place Duma can call home. The film is really a masterpiece and as Xan on his trek learns about life, death, courage, responsibility, love and his own wild nature. . In this scorched land, Xan becomes his truest, most natural self as talks to his beloved pet freely, without worry or self-consciousness. It's a dream world for a young boy.
Xan, Duma and Rip must face many challenges as their quest unfolds - dangerous rivers, and crocodiles, the worry finding food, and the sense that betrayal could come at any moment. Newcomer Alex Michaeletos turns in a beautifully understated performance as the troubled Xan - he feels so out-of-place in the modern world with only Duma as his real friend. Hope Davis and Campbell Scott are also standouts as Xan's devoted and loving parents, and of course there's the magisterial cheetah.
Just as mesmeric are the sweeping African landscapes that seem to swallow both Xan and Duma up as their epic physical and emotional journey plays out. Using both intimate close-ups and expansive long shots director Carroll Ballard makes the most of the dazzling surroundings.
Like all those cheetahs the landscape, with its seemingly endless ocher grasslands and shocks of bright blue and emerald, as shot by cinematographer Werner Maritz appears strangely and bewitchingly timeless, just as the friendship does between this gutsy, fearless boy and his big, beautiful and loving cat. Mike Leonard May 06.