This film enjoyed extraordinary worldwide popularity when it was released. It begins in the manner of a National Geographic documentary, depicting the simple lives and shrinking habitat of the people of the Kalahari in present-day Botswana. It establishes as well that there is a great modern city two thousand miles to the north, and a more provincial capital at a lesser distance that is in the midst of a rebellion. There is a smooth, Western-style narrator. Glib parallels are made between the “civilized” life of the city and the placid lives of the people in the desert.
The movie shifts into its natural storytelling form, though the narration continues, when a man named Xixo (say Key) of the Kalahari people finds a Coke bottle that has been dropped by a careless bush pilot flying overhead. Thinking it is a gift from the gods, he brings the bottle back to his village where is it discovered to have many uses. It becomes a coveted object among these people who have never had any conception of ownership, and they begin to fight over it.
Xixo decides it is necessary for him to take the evil object to the edge of the Earth and throw it back to the gods. He begins his long trek and along the way meets a cast of characters who represent the concentric rings of Civilization that surround his homeland. At this point the film shifts to conventional dialogue among the violent and disorganized revolutionaries using machine guns to accomplish their ends.
The narration picks up again with scenes of Xi’s journey. There is a pretty school teacher who has come from the great city to find some respite from the pressures of civilized life; there is a likable but bumbling scientist who takes a fancy to her, and a handsome tour director who becomes his rival; there is the desperate rebel leader and his band of thugs, and various police and soldiers in pursuit of the rebels.
The writer-director of this film appears to have watched his share of Chaplin films. His humor runs to the slapstick mishap and he employs it relentlessly, often to good effect. Xixo is arrested for killing a goat and is put in jail. Fearing he will die in confinement, the Whites get him released. The nasty rebel leader breaks into the school and takes the teacher and students hostage, forcing them on a long march. In the end, Xixo helps to rescue them from the hands of the rebels, and then goes off to find the edge of the world. When he gets there, he throws the Coke bottle into the clouds below. That’s it; we see a quick shot of him returning to his people.