Cape of Good Hope

Amidst the crowd of studio blockbusters and Oscar-hopefuls released in December 2005 is this modest charmer from South Africa, about the multi-ethnic employees of a Cape Town animal shelter and their relationships with their families and romantic partners.

It's refreshing to see so many unknown actors - unknown to these American eyes, anyway - who take to their roles with conviction and brio. Especially good is Eriq Ebouaney as a Congolese immigrant who, despite having a PhD in astronomy, is relegated to feeding dogs and volunteering(!) as a janitor at the local planetarium. His character sheds light on a little-discussed aspect of post-Apartheid South Africa, where both native whites and blacks are prejudiced against their African neighbors.

There's a lot of other details, both poignant and bitter, about the subdued yet uneasy race relations that make up the reality of everyday South African life. But Cape of Good Hope is first and foremost a character piece, and a comic drama about the travails of love and the difficult choices people often have to make.

I was a bit disappointed by the last fifteen or so minutes of the film, where the story becomes needlessly melodramatic in order to make a final sprint towards a somewhat pat conclusion. Still, it doesn't stop me for recommending this enjoyable little gem, with a fine script (written by director Bamford and his wife, both Americans) and even finer performances.