Kanarie draws you in, and as you watch the relationships build on screen, so does your love for the characters. Picture: Michael van Rooyen/Supplied.

This is a coming-of-age gay musical war drama about a small town boy who gets chosen to serve his compulsory two-year military training in the South African Defence Force Choir and Concert group - known as the “Kanaries”- during the height of the Apartheid regime.


Kanarie will not only have you singing like a canary to its catchy tunes, but it will definitely leave you feeling all kinds of emotions by it's moving tale.

The movie draws you in, and as you watch the relationships build on screen, so does your love for the characters.

There's a widely believed theory that comedians make great dramatic actors and in the case of Schalk Bezuidenhout that is proven true. 

Bezuidenhout does an excellent job playing Johan Niemand as endearing and mild-mannered soldier. 

At the start of the movie, we're introduced to his character wearing a wedding dress, and the scene that plays out thereafter could easily have fallen flat, but Bezuidenhout brings a warmth and wit that gets carried throughout the film.

If you know Bezuidenhout for his comedy, prepare to be impressed by his acting talent. While this is Bezuidenhout's show, the supporting characters are really what solidify the film.

Hannes Otto plays fellow Kanarie choir member 'Wolfgang' who goes on to be Niemand's love interest. Their chemistry is palpable and will have you rooting for the forbidden love. 

It certainly helps that Otto is beautiful, but besides his looks, he skillfully navigates the emotional and comedic beats.

The film also has an impressive scene stealer, actor Germandt Geldenhuys. Whenever his character 'Ludolf' appeared on screen, a laugh was sure to follow. 

While 'Ludolf' is a character viewers will be familiar with, the actor makes the roles his own and it is so fun to watch.

A face even casual South African audiences will be familiar is Jacques Bessenger who plays Ds Engelbrecht. Bessenger arguably plays his most earnest and innocent role, and it's refreshing to see the actor portray someone so pure.

Kanarie is only as good as what it is because it was directed by Christiaan Olwagen. The Afrikaans language film includes a fair amount of tracking shots, which was noticeable (in a good way).

Tracking shots typically aren't used as effectively in South African movies, and it's a testament to Olwagen's skill that these shots were some of the best shots in the movie.

The film also has an impactful use of lighting in key moments of the story that differentiate between reality and the musical moments.

Hannes Otto plays fellow Kanarie choir member 'Wolfgang' who goes on to be Niemand's love interest. Picture: Michael van Rooyen/Supplied.
Picture: Michael van Rooyen/Supplied.

Kanarie is more of a film with music than an actual musical. When music is used in the film, it does use the musical trope of doing it to highlight the emotional state of a character.

While Kanarie is stellar, it is not without its flaws.

The film doesn't tread new ground, telling the same story of the Afrikaner experience during Apartheid rather than bringing a different voice to the screen. 

Kanarie is the second SA movie this year alone to tackle this subject matter - the first being Recce. However's it's LGBTQI+ spin does keep it fresh.

A fellow viewer raised legitimate concerns surrounding film: "What isn’t a gay person telling this story at least? I just can’t get behind this film because of that. Also, a film looking at what happened, with a pain experienced by the privileged just feels disjointed."

While some may argue that the point of view is pedantic, it does raise a sentiment that others have shared with me. 

In an ideal situation, Kanarie would be made by a gay director with a gay actor in the lead but it's not. Does that make the film any less good? No. Would this have maybe helped get the movie more support? Absolutely.

For what it's worth, the film does have the benefit of gay talent behind the scenes that work in its favour. 

Besides this year's Ellen Pakkies movie, SA needs to deliver new stories. 

We are overdue for Apartheid set films about Thandi Modise and other black female activists during the Struggle. Along with LGBT films set on the Cape Flats, in townships and with people of colour in the lead.

Kanarie, for better or worse is one of those stories that needed to be told. It even manages to introduce an unknown part of history to a younger group of film-goers.

The film is a captivating tale and helps elevate the level of storytelling in our ever-growing film industry. 

Kanarie is also a heartwarming and affecting tale that in one moment will have you singing along, and in another will have you tearing up with its powerful performances.

While it may not be for everyone, it is definitely worth a watch.

Genre:  Drama

Running time: 123 minutes

Kanarie stars: Schalk Bezuidenhout, Hannes Otto, Germandt Geldenhuys, Gerard Rudolf, Jacques Bessenger, Ludwig Binge, Francois Jacobs, De Klerk Oelofse, David Viviers & Andrico Goosen. 

Rating: 4/5


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Cape Argus