The young men in Lost Boys of Sudan, Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk's poignant documentary of hope, survival, and loneliness, have been rescued from a civil war of overwhelming violence: 2 million dead in 20 years. Stepping off a plane in Houston, Tex., the refugees, all orphans, are tentative yet eager, poised to enter a society as exotic as a moon colony; it's called middle-class American life. ''That house looks like it could fall on us!'' says one of the newly arrived in his slow, halting English. He's referring to a two-story apartment building, but for someone who has spent a life sheltered in mud huts, it is no joke.
As we watch, the banalities of Western existence -- deodorant, driving lessons, an electric stove, and, in one blessed scene, the taste of a hamburger -- come to seem funny, even exalted, as they are experienced for the first time. The richness of ''Lost Boys of Sudan,'' however, is that Peter and Santino, the two principal figures, have left a part of their souls in limbo. They've escaped a world of apocalyptic chaos only to move to one of consuming order; even after a year, neither one quite fits into America. ''Lost Boys of Sudan'' yearns to be optimistic (juxtaposed with the disaster of Sudan, it certainly has the right to be), yet that only ends up underscoring its ache of sadness.