Behind the benign title of Lost in Africa is a thriller that embodies every mother’s worst nightmare: her child vanishes. It’s not really a soccer movie as much as it is a reflection of the hard and dangerous life in Kiera, a Kenyan shanty town.
In the story, Danish Doctor Susanne (Connie Nielsen) returns to Kenya, where she had adopted 11 year old Simon as a baby. Simon owns a soccer ball autographed by Michael Laudrup. When the ball flies over the resort wall, Simon plunges into the Kiera slum, trying to recover his property. While he can’t speak the language of his birth, his soccer skills help him make friends.
But Simon’s obvious wealth marks him as a money-making opportunity, and when his mother offers a finders reward on TV, she has naively put a price on his head. That is why the Danish title for the film is Kidnappet. Successive rounds of good and bad guys try to get Simon and get the reward.
Writer-Director Vibeke Muasya puts together a tense film that shows the harsh sides of the slum in a way that a documentary cannot. Children are victimized by gangsters and also by other children. The boys who befriend Simon also rob him. A trio of homeless brothers sniff glue to sleep at night; they appear to be only 6 to 12 years old.
A woman director
Vibeke Muasya has now completed several feature length films, a fact that indicates her quality. (I have noticed that anyone who directs more than one feature-length film develops a career.) Muasya wrote this story from bits of her own life. She is Danish and lived in Kenya for years. She also was married to a man who was born in Kenya but raised by Danes, and who could not speak his birth language. She used a mostly local cast and crew for the film, which was a first in that area near Nairobi.
Weaknesses and spoiler alerts
My main issue with Lost in Africa as a family film is that there are multiple instances of violence against children. In addition, although the film is generally well-crafted, it feels like they ran out of money at the end, forcing a slap-dash finish with insufficient closure.
Themes of Simon’s discovering his Kenyan identity are hinted at but left hanging. The police are more concerned about whether Simon’s adoption was illegal, rather than investigate a possible kidnapping, but that issue fades away. Bad guys are suddenly eliminated without providing viewer satisfaction.
There are also holes in the story, such as a gangster shooting at Simon (which would kill off his golden goose), and a potential rescuer needing to be driven to Nairobi when Simon basically walked to the slum from his hotel. To close another storyline, we are simply told a deathly ill grandmother, who can’t get medical care in the slum, ended up recovering in the hospital.
Not a soccer movie, but football connects people
As a soccer movie, I can’t say this film is worth your time. To learn about Kenya though it is eye-opening. The soccer consists of Simon playing with the township boys on a dirt field, plus some early scenes of Simon playing in Denmark. But as I said, this is not really a soccer movie, although it does warm the heart to see football as a universal game that can bind across language and economic barriers.
6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6