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The Independent Critic

Adam Fidusiewicz, Karolina Sawka, Artur Zmijewski, Andrzej Strzelecki
Gavin Hood
Gavin Hood (based upon novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz)
111 Mins.
FACETS Home Video (DVD)

 "In Desert and Wilderness" Review 
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Adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Henryk Sienkiewicz, In Desert and Wilderness (English title) was the Best of Fest winner during the 2002 Chicago International Children's Film Festival and is currently getting primed for a home video release on May 25th, 2010 thanks to the fine folks at FACETS Home Video.

A remake of a 1973 film from Polish director Wladyslaw Slesicki, In Desert and Wilderness may be most notable as an early film of director Gavin Hood, now known for such films as Tsotsi and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Hood helmed this Polish language children's film set during the construction of the Suez Canal at the end of the 19th century. The film centers around two children, Stas (Adam Fidusiewicz) and Nel (Karolina Sawka) who are kidnapped, taken to the heart of Africa, escape from their captors and embark on an action-packed journey across the continent in an effort to get back to their parents.

Those familiar with the award-winning source material from Sienkiewicz will undoubtedly note that Hood does deviate from the novel, a deviation likely to trouble purists more than fans of children's cinema.

An entertaining and exciting example of Polish cinema geared towards the family, In Desert and Wilderness follows the two courageous children who are also joined by two African slaves, Mea (Lingile Shongwe) and Kali (Mzwandile Ngubeni), and run into some delightful human characters as they battle terrible storms, wild animals, hunger and malaria in their effort to get back home.

While In Desert and Wilderness runs nearly two hours, Hood's greatest deficit is that much of the film feels rushed with pacing that often diffuses the building excitement. On the flip side, the camera work by Paul Gilpin is stellar for the film that was shot in location in Namibia, South Africa and Tunisia and is nicely complemented by Emilia Roux's art direction. The original music by Krzesimer Debski serves as a prime example of how music can set the mood and tone of a film, at times serving as the perfect counterpoint for Hood's pacing issues.

What really allows In Desert and Wilderness to blossom is the performance of young Karolina Sawka as nine-year-old Nel, a young girl who runs the gamut from youthful enthusiasm to childlike innocence to adventurous spirit and surprising vulnerability. Unfortunately, she's unmatched by Adam Fidusiewicz's performance that too often feels manufactured and out of sync with Sawka.

The DVD includes a "Making Of" featurette that proves a delightful addition and also serves as a reminder of just how far technology has come even the past few years.

While In Desert and Wilderness doesn't quite live up to the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel upon which it is based, it remains an entertaining and exciting family film and a great opportunity for parents and schools to expose children to other cultures while entertaining them. The DVD is in Polish with English subtitles.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic