DIRECTOR: Paul Eilers
CAST: Gys de Villiers, Deon Lotz, Viljé Maritz, Andrew Thompson, Neil-Bennett Grib
RUNNING TIME: 122 minutes
For war drama Verraaiers Paul Eilers has gathered a particularly strong cast to tell the story of the men branded traitors during the Anglo-Boer War for following their conscience.
It is a nostalgic blast to see people like Carel Trichardt, Rika Sennett, Marcel van Heerden, André Roothman, Chris de Clerq, Paul Lückhoff and Albert Maritz receive such extensive big-screen time. It’s also a brave director that kills off Ivan Botha in the first scene of a film – clearly we’re not aiming at the Bakgat! market here.
Also on the plus side, the highveld hasn’t looked this gorgeous in a long time. The pinks and golds of the sunsets are as deep as the greens and browns of the plantlife, which makes for a welcome sight when so many films are doomed to washed-out colours and too much sunlight.
On the downside, the PC nature of the story we get, completely wastes all work that went into the film. Terms like hensoppers (from the English words “hands up”), verraaiers (traitors) and “joiners” (frequently used in the film) are loaded and recur in stories from that time. The film examines the concept of men unjustly accused of this type of behaviour.
The film is inspired by Albert Blake’s novel Boereverraaiers.
It tells the story of Jakobus van Aswegen (De Villiers), who leaves the Boer side of the war to protect his family when he finds out about the scorched-earth policy of the British.
He and his sons are captured by the Boer side and accused of turning traitor.
The generals are fighting a rear-guard action – losing men to desertion – and decide to make an example of them to deter others from doing the same.
We already know where the story is going, because history books are full of details.
But the interesting part is the interaction between various people. It would have been great to get more of that and less “and then, and then, and then…”
The relationship between Van Aswegen and his eldest son-in-law is especially interesting, because they have opposing views on what might happen – which must often have been the case at the time.
Unfortunately, we get the details of their kangaroo courts, rather than the human interaction between father and son as they realise their father’s high-minded ideals have doomed them.
The women are a secondary consideration in this film – all they do is sit on the farm and wait. This is the men’s story.
Gys de Villiers gets to flesh out his character, creating a steady, salt-of-the-earth kind of man who is betrayed by his people, but still tries to find a way to live up to his principles – or else what is he?
Deon Lotz is almost unrecognisable behind that bushy beard. But his General de la Rey character hints convincingly at the doubts which beset a man in a position of power, fighting an unwinnable battle, and who does not want to submit to an easy way out, but sticks to his guns.
Considering the extremely high technical quality of art direction, sets, costumes and cinematography, it is again strange (Roepman had the same kind of problems) to find such anachronistic language and behaviour in a film based on the concept of perception.
For example, take the bidsprinkaan (praying mantis), which forms a salient plot point. It would have been called a hotnotsgod in those days.
And although many farmers had good relationships with their black workers, the politically correct nature of what we see on the screen in this film beggars belief. Why show this?
Also, why does Rika Sennet have to wander off naked into the boonies? That’s a very contemporary take on the portrayal of grief that jars in this context, as it is a story about people of that time – the turn of that century, not this one.
The film is well sub-titled. But it is decidedly aimed at someone seeking the reassurance that history will be kinder to contemporary Afrikaners, as they fight to adjust, than it was during that particular war period.
If you liked Roepman or Wolwedans in die Skemer, you will like Verraaiers.