Len (Sandilands, right) talking to Robbie (Marno van der Merwe.)

DIE BALLADE VAN ROBBIE DE WEE

DIRECTOR: Darrell Roodt

CAST: Neil Sandilands, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Marno van der Merwe, Chris de Clerq

CLASSIFICATION: 13LVD

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

RATING: **

THERE IS something so magnetic about Neil Sandilands, you just want to watch him and nothing else when he appears on video.

He lights up the screen and draws your eye, doesn’t matter what he is doing, clambering around a flat in his tighty whities, wandering down a dirt road with a shovel over his shoulder… And then there is the beautiful diction – the man’s Afrikaans is impeccable.

Too bad this film doesn’t give him much to do here. Or, actually it gives him too much to do. In addition to narrating the film, Sandilands acts out every bit of action he describes, so you are getting the story twice and it just drags – both times.

It may be called the ballad of Robbie de Wee, but the eponymous character is not played by Sandilands, who is a music agent.

He discovers said Robbie de Wee and nurtures his singing career the old-fashioned way, sending the kid on the road.

I say kid because Robbie is meant to be 19, which Marno van der Merwe is just too mature to portray. Plus, he may have a lovely voice, but it is not quite the magical talent the story is calling for. The use of the word ballad in the title also suggests a poetic, lyrical treatment of the story of someone’s life, but erm… Ja. Well. No.

Anyway, the kid is on the road when Oom Len (Sandilands) is called in to clean up an “accident” involving an overeager groupie and he starts to figure out something he never wanted to know.

TV crime procedurals do this much better, so turning this into a whodunit does not help the plotline much.

Plus, either the projectionist at the preview was completely clueless, or this film’s cinematography is totally over-exposed because the washed-out skies and silhouetted trees, buildings and people did not make for the usual luscious images we have come to expect from director Darrell Roodt’s oeuvre.

The intriguing framing and camera panning angles are there, but I could not quite make out details of faces or places.

And then Anna-Mart van der Merwe pitches up in a lovely cameo, as a scared mother in search of her child, and she turns in a stunning five minutes of truly believable performance, completely done in by the really bad make-up.

There’s a woman whose talent even badly applied slap could not hide.

Now, if that interaction between her frightened but determined mother and the, at that point, confused-but-making-the-connection Len had been the start of the film, that would have been a film worth watching.

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