Writer-director Louise Hogarth's straightforward film documents the life's work of white South African activist Marion Cloete: Her efforts to feed, educate and love hundreds of abandoned and orphaned children.
A trained social worker, Cloete and her endlessly supportive husband came from well-off families and met during the apartheid era; she jokes that he blackmailed her into staying off the front lines by invoking their own children's need to have a living mother. Their university-educated twins, Leigh and Nicole, grew up to work alongside their parents in the village complex they built on untamed farmland; it includes dormitories, cafeterias and most important, classrooms — Marion's core tenet is that education, combined with the love and support of a stable family, biological or otherwise, is the key to escaping dead-end lives of poverty, crime and exploitation. The village houses 250 children, from babies to teenagers, and feeds and educates another 280 who live in the surrounding area. The Cloetes are up against a wide range of social pathologies that fracture families and leave children unmoored, but she attributes much of the need for her services to AIDS: It orphans children, robs them of their own youth and leaves them open to brutal abuse — the belief that sex with a virgin can cure the disease is responsible for an epidemic of child rape. Though religious and deeply committed to humanitarian work, Cloete is neither saintly nor humorless. She tends gently to Thabo, a local man who's dying of AIDS, but she and her staff later call him a "serial killer" because he's slept with so many women — they're laughing, but they're also trying to trace his contacts so they can treat women who've been with him. And the subject of controversial South African health minister Dr. Manto, who insists AIDS can be prevented or cured with a diet rich in olive oil, garlic and onions, drives her to fury.
Hogarth's film is inspirational in the best sense of the world, and its only false note is a prologue with an overwrought narrator who bemoans the fate of orphaned elephants. The film returns to the elephants at the end to make a perfectly valid point about the need for stable adults to socialize youngsters, but the interjection still feels forced and carries a faint whiff of condescension.
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- Released: 2007
- Rating: NR
- Review: Writer-director Louise Hogarth's straightforward film documents the life's work of white South African activist Marion Cloete: Her efforts to feed, educate and love hundreds of abandoned and orphaned children. A trained social worker, Cloete and her en… (more)