ABC Africa is Abbas Kiarostami’s documentary about the orphan crisis in Uganda, a country that is home to more than 1.5 million young victims of civil war and the AIDS scourge. The Iranian filmmaker, who is celebrated for his tranquil camera-eye moodscapes, shoots these impoverished children staring and laughing into his camcorder lens, and his images of a country dotted with birth-control billboards are alive with the tumult of a nation barely fighting decay.
Yet if Kiarostami wants to bring global tragedy to our doorsteps, he also can’t resist aestheticizing it. It’s not enough for the film to show us a child’s corpse wrapped in cardboard; we’ve got to step back to see Kiarostami himself shooting the sad sight, so that it becomes a Godardian ironic statement. The people in ”ABC Africa” are treated as docile, mostly wordless ethnographic extras. By the end, they’ve become figures of lyrical suffering out of a Benetton tableau.