Evil incarnate in this gripping Afrikaans Drama
By Jaco Lotriet
South African film productions have garnered quite a few accolades in recent years on the International scene. Sink and especially Tsotsi come to mind, cementing our country’s achievements in filmmaking, not only on the local scene, but especially abroad. This wide acclaim catapulted our filmmakers into the upper ranks of producer royalty, subsequently exposing them to a much larger audience.
When a film such as Die Stropers comes along, we can only hope that this production will gather as much praise, as its predecessors have. With a standing applause from the audience at the recent 71st Cannes Film Festival, as well as having won best cinematography at the eighth annual kykNET Silwerskerm Film Festival, Die Stropers may be well on its way to achieving the critical acclaim it deserves.
Cape Town-born writer and first time director, Etienne Kallos, who spearheaded this production, audaciously strode into a world of an intense psychological drama. Centred on an extremely conservative Christian Afrikaans family, Kallos addressed the often thorny topics of religion and sexuality entwined head-on, in this coming-of-age production. It should be stated that a lot of recent media publications seem to centre on, and even exaggerate the theme of homosexuality in the film. While it certainly forms an integral part of the storyline, I would rather state that it is subtly implied, and in no way offensive.
The aforementioned conservatism however, is ultimately tied to the religious theme and relates to the strict constraints and traditionalism sometimes found in the Afrikaner community, whereby the fear of God and the reconciliation between failure and the inability to express one’s true self, is emphasised. This truthful, often gritty conveyance on screen, may leave an Afrikaner audience reeling, as it could uncover feelings of shortcomings that they would much rather shy away from. Perhaps, as is evident in this day and age with the more open-minded younger generation, this might actually not be the case…
Either way, it is impossible to ignore the film’s confrontational, dark and sometimes perplexing nature. Perplexing, because even though the audience may wonder how the story will play out, nothing quite prepares them for its unravelling conclusion. This, in part, can be credited to the contrasting and gripping performances of two actors in particular, as well as exquisite cinematography, combined with a sweeping score.
The protagonist Janno and antagonist Pieter, are both played by two newcomers; Brent Vermeulen and Alex van Dyk, respectively. These two actors’ depiction of their characters can best be described as jaw dropping performances, but particular praise goes to Van Dyk as the cool, calculated and manipulating Pieter. Having briefly experienced these actors’ actual personalities at the film’s red carpet event, I was astonished at how remarkably different their characters were. Not only does this point to their great intrinsic acting skills, but also outstanding direction from Kallos.
Evgueni- and Sacha Galerines sweeping score, combined with Michal Englerts spectacular cinematography immerses the audience further in the deep melancholy unfolding on screen. Die Stropers is a slow-paced, Afrikaans movie, featuring English sub-titles, hence its accompanying title, The Harvesters. Scant dialogue and intimate moments of silence accentuates its overall mood and for good reason, becoming more apparent with the films’ progression, whilst maintaining the line of suspense throughout.
A must-see production of this magnitude requires investors in bringing the producers ‘extraordinary vision to life and includes the KwaZulu -Natal Film Commission, Agence Film France, the Greek Film Institute, the Polish Film Institute and the Department of Trade and Industry. The film is produced by Sophie Erbs, the Cinema de Facto of France and Thembisa Cochrane, of Spier Films, South Africa. Executive producers are Dr Lwazi Manzi and Michael Auret, also from Spier Films.
Die Stropers is distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution and opened nationwide in South Africa on 15 March 2019.