Cape of Good Hope

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/14/06 19:48:24

"As sweet as possible without being projected directly onto sugar."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

How can you not smile all the way through a movie like “Cape of Good Hope,” a film overflowing with love and wonder and goodness and heart? Even the saddest parts of the story are enveloped by optimism and warmth, even if such qualities are not evident in those saddest parts. The film is a celebration of the ups and downs of life, and because it is a celebration, the ups will surely win out. And for that, you are surely to leave the film feeling simply wonderful.

The film, directed by spouses Mark and Suzanne Kay Bamford (Mark also directed; it’s the feature debut for both), goes the multiple-story route, following the lives of the good folks at a Cape Town animal shelter. Kate (Debbie Brown) is dating an unlikable married man, unaware of the attention she’s getting from coworker Morne (Morne Visser); Sharifa (Quanita Adams) is longing to conceive a child, but is nervous to discuss the issue with her husband (David Isaacs); Jean Claude (Eriq Ebouaney) is an immigrant from the Congo whose PhD in astronomy means little here, although perhaps he can charm over the lovely Lindewe (Nthati Moshesh), a struggling single mother and student eager to find romance again.

This being a story of modern day South Africa, race unsurprisingly plays a powerful role in these tales, yet there is restraint that keeps the film becoming a message movie - instead, race relations are always bubbling underneath, a driving force in the characters’ world, yes, but not the only force. The film presents the shelter as a wonderful place not only for pets, but for people as well, as here is the one place in town where all cultures collide in gentle harmony. Here, the good hope of the title springs forth, and even a vicious dog taught since birth to hate can perhaps learn a new way.

Outside the shelter, of course, the real world sets in. There is a beautifully sad moment midway through the film where we learn about Jean Claude’s volunteer job at the local planetarium. It is a simple, underplayed touch, one that offers a striking view of a nation still dealing with divides. More than mere black and white, there is racism of various cultures; even the poorest of local blacks feel suspicious of foreigners, even if the skin color matches their own. Jean Claude is often labeled a foreigner (a “filthy” one, according to Lindewe’s stubborn mother), and his refugee status means his intelligence is meaningless in a nation that considers him an outsider.

But these are only the underlines in a story that ultimately transcends national or cultural boundaries. “Cape of Good Hope” is at its heart a most romantic love story, one bounding with the promise of happily ever afters. And from this wonderful feeling come all those smiles. Just watch as the charming Jean Claude and the lovely Lindewe connect; these are scenes of great joy. The other moments are equally sweet and charming: an awkward attempt at dance lessons, a trip to the fertility clinic, a lovely dinner on the beach. What a wonderful “feel good” movie.

The film’s only problems arrive in the last act, when the Bamfords mistakenly believe they need to throw in some unnecessary (and slightly clichéd) melodrama into the mix. These late scenes take the film off track just enough to keep it from achieving the great heights it almost reaches; even the epilogue gets reduced to a bit of formulaic physical comedy that never quite matches up to the rest of the film.

Yet it’s all still so very effective, because the characters have been so crisply formed by the writers and the excellent cast. (Nothing less than terrific performances all around, with the debonair Ebouaney deserving the most notice.) “Cape of Good Hope” is a film about people we want so very much to love, people who keep us watching - and keep us smiling. What a gloriously sweet story.

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