THE WHITE MASAI (Hermine Huntgeburth). 131 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 16). Rating: NN Rating: NN
Ostensibly, The White Masai tells the true story of a Swiss woman who, on a whim, abandons her cushy life to shack up -- literally, in a shack of sticks and dung -- with an African warrior in Kenya.
Never mind that the warrior, Lemalian (entirely convincing French actor Jacky Ido ), is actually a Samburu tribesman, not the better-known Masai of the title. (The White Samburu probably sounded too much like an SUV or a cocktail.) And I'm enough of a romantic to believe that Carola ( Nina Hoss ) could be lying on the beach with her boyfriend one moment and ditching him to play Jane of the Jungle the next. The heart wants what it wants, after all.
The film doesn't focus on Carola's entirely unsurprising struggle to adjust to and overcome obstacles of culture and tradition and lack of running water and caffe lattes, but rather on male ego and insecurity, making it feel like a typical melodrama.
First, the Swiss boyfriend leaves Carola to her Crocodile Dundee fantasy mate without a struggle, because he refuses to believe she could want anyone else. Lashing out, he says she only wants to screw around.
Then there's Lemalian, whose jealousy of his new companion's independence leaves him feeling less like the lion hunter he is. Lashing out, he accuses her of infidelity and drives her away.
So while the film has some beautiful scenery and authentic elements and the two leads have chemistry, ultimately it's a bit like watching The Jeffersons, with the Willises bickering in the outback, but without the benefit of George Jefferson's big mouth for some levity.