By Phil Hall | February 8, 2008

“A Walk to Beautiful” is the year’s second documentary focusing on the social and emotional challenges faced by rural African women suffering from fistula-induced incontinence (“Lumo” was the first). In this film, five Ethiopian women travel from their poor villages to the capital of Addis Ababa, where they become patients at a hospital designed solely to treat fistula patients.

The women also carry serious emotional scars inflicted by their families and communities – husbands abandon them, families make them sleep in isolated shacks, friends shun them, and public transportation refuse to allow them passage due to the stench and mess created by their incontinence. While the Ethiopian health care system is somewhat more casual than its Western counterparts (at one point, a stray dog wanders through a patient’s room), the dedication of the staff (a mix of local and European physicians) helps these women regain their dignity and resume their lives.

“A Walk to Beautiful” is a stirring and touching production, and it is difficult not to be moved by the women’s medical progress. However, it suffers from a somewhat leisurely pacing. At 85 minutes, it feels a bit soft and pokey – especially when the film keeps steering away from the subject of women’s health into sociological issues relating to the status of women in Ethiopia (a worthy subject deserving of its own focus, to be certain). An hour-long version of this title is slated to run on the PBS series “Nova” later this spring, and it is safe to assume that edition will be more succinct and cogent.

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