Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Warm December (1973)

          Something of an Afrocentric cousin to Love Story (1970), this romantic drama offers a gentle look at the impact that mortality has on the love life of a likeable protagonist. A widower based in Washington, D.C., Dr. Matt Younger (Sidney Poitier) travels to England for a vacation with his young daughter, Stefanie (Yvette Curtis). His goal is to spend time with European friends, ride his dirt bike in regional competitions, and show the Old World to Stefanie. One day, Matt encounters Catherine Oswandu (Ester Anderson), a mysterious beauty followed by shady-looking characters wherever she goes. After several more encounters, Matt discovers that Catherine is the rebellious niece of an ambassador from the (fictional) African country of Torunda. Despite disapproval from the ambassador, Matt courts Catherine, taking her on several dates, but Catherine regularly disappears in the middle of outings, so Matt suspects she has health problems. Once that suspicion is validated, the lovers explore options for continuing or ending their romance in the face of massive obstacles, and the whole matter is complicated by the bond that Catherine forms with Stefanie. In the broadest strokes, A Warm December is nothing but a trite soap opera. In the particulars, however, the movie reveals a bit more individuality.
          The dirt-bike scenes offer bursts of action, even though they never advance the plot, and Matt somehow manages to find every African-themed hotspot in England for dates with Catherine. (One exciting sequence involves a large musical ensemble fronted by singer Letta Mbulu, performing a Miriam Makeba tune called “Nonqonqo”; although the sequence does nothing to propel the story, it’s beautiful and thrilling as a stand-alone moment.) Poitier, who also directed the picture, shoulders much of the blame for the aimlessness of the material—at times, he seems more interested in shooting travelogue montages than in exploring emotions. Poitier also seems preoccupied with ensuring that his character comes across as a one-note saint, endlessly kind and patient and sensitive, which drains the movie of conflict and momentum. As for costar Anderson, she’s appealing, if a bit amateurish and stiff. Having said all that, A Warm December is pleasant enough to watch. The cultural details are interesting, the European locations are dynamic, and the themes are uplifting, so the movie is as humane as it is slight.

A Warm December: FUNKY

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