A good old-fashioned pet tale

"Nature breaks through the eyes of the cat."
Irish proverb

With the emergence of digitized everything, photography of the actual thing is now the amazement. Splendid is everything visualized in Duma, the story of a young South African boy, Xan (Alex Michaeletos), who brings up an orphaned cheetah, Duma, to the day when his father (Campbell Scott) decides the cat must return to the wild.

And so, about the time they are to return Duma to his world, Xan becomes a sort of orphan himself because dad dies and leaves Xan and his mother with a big ranch to tend. As predictable as the right of passage story that ensues with Xan taking Duma back, there is a freshness of simplicity and beauty, joy and sorrow that overwhelms the clich?s and makes you eager to go back to animal stories like Old Yeller, where the pets are dignified and make real the abstract idea of Nature.

An unusual care for lens and animal is palpable from director Carroll Ballard and cinematographer Werner Meritz, unforgettable even. The four cheetahs used for Duma are as often lensed in close ups as they are in long shots, in which they beautifully stretch their sixty-mile -an-hour legs.

Ballard, with the thematic consistency of his acclaimed Fly Away Home, weaves the theme of abandonment and reconciliation into every major scene: Even the enigmatic intruder Rip(Eamon Walker) has exiled himself from his tribe and is now returning home, cruising the river with Xan like Huck with Jim.

Duma is a good old-fashioned pet tale, never boring for me, a perpetual boy with an English major's tendency to see poetry in a landscape or a cheetah's eye.

"Nature never did betray the heart that loved her." Wordsworth