Faan se Trein (with subtitles)
DIRECTOR: Koos Roets
CAST: Willie Esterhuizen, Marius Weyers, Anel Alexander, Cobus Rossouw, Deon Lotz, Nicola Hanekom, AJ van der Merwe, Gamiet Petersen
Running TimE: 1 hour 55 minute
RATING: ****


The play was first performed in 1976. Faan se Trein by Pieter Fourie, was described as volks (folk) theatre and immediately grew in stature with sell-out seasons when-ever it is performed, even today.

Set in the late 1950s, it deals with a mentally challenged middle-aged man, in a small Karoo town, who is taunted by the children and never accepted by the small town folk who are often also small of mind.

It’s a marvellous local story and the director’s stroke of genius started with casting. If you’re familiar with Willie Esterhuizen’s film milieu – larger-than-life, below-the belt humour (Stoute Boudjies, Orkney Snork Nie) – he should not have appeared on anyone’s radar, but Roets is an old-timer and even knowing the stakes, was willing to take the risk.

It paid off – big time – with Esterhuizen hitting a home run with a performance that cleaves through the soul of this damaged yet determined man. He not only looks the part, his interpretation is fine-tuned and goes straight to the heart of the movie.

There’s much more that’s right.

Set in the Karoo, a place Roets loves, he uses the town, the surrounds, the skies and the weather as a backdrop that adds to the charm of the movie.

And then he puts together a cast of veterans and younger actors, all with strong stage backgrounds, that enhances the storytelling.

From Weyers and Rossouw, two of South Africa’s finest stage actors, to Rossouw’s wife Sandra Kotze, they add lustre to a movie as their performances are nuanced and finely detailed. It’s a bonus to see this kind of quality on screen further buoyed with performances by seasoned film actors including Lotz and Van der Merwe and a sentimentally charged star turn by Petersen.

On a sad note, this is probably the last time we will see the burgeoning talent of Kieran Schultz (young blond boy) who, sadly, died in a freak accident last year.

There are more surprises like Anel Alexander who has made a few movies and done television work, who grabs this chance to shine amongst all the star power. This is quite an ensemble but for her especially, it led to an inspired performance.

Sadly, the luminous Hanekom who plays the temptress, didn’t have the same effect and it took me two screenings to realise her performance is stage rather than screen-inspired and as such doesn’t come alive. It’s a difficult transition especially when you are already working with a screenplay that’s been adapted from the play.

The thing that hindered most was the ending. Why do people think they have to show it all? Especially when a story is this painstakingly told, with such care and a pace that follows the lives of people living in another time.

Not to share any secrets or spoil the unfolding of the plot, let’s not go into details, but story-tellers have to learn to trust their audience. They don’t have to be spoonfed. Sometimes it is better to leave an idea floating out there rather than play out the full extent of someone’s dream.

There are two scenes specifically, when the town folk stand up together and when they walk to protest the wife of the doctor’s underhand wheeling and dealing, that Roets truly states his intentions. This is an art film – nothing more, nothing less, – even if these two particular scenes are too stage managed. It reminds of a Babette’s Feast in the way he has charged the people to tell this story.

It’s not a seamless movie and yet, the story is solid, exquisitely told and will probably have you in tears at some point and the performances are grounded and serve the story magnificently.

This is going to be one of those Afrikaans movies that will make its mark. Roets is a fine film-maker and he handled this one with tender love and care.

In the end, it was taking that leap of faith with Esterhuizen that truly makes this one fly.

If you liked Babette’s Feast or Die Wonderwerker, you will probably like this one.