My Father’s War

I have often found South African films difficult to watch. Perhaps because of a shameful predisposition to think they are second rate. Probably because of a strongly felt desire not to watch more of what I live and see every day around me. My Father’s War is difficult to watch. And it is deeply South African. But it is certainly not second rate. And it tells a unique, brave story. One I could strongly identify with.

The tale revolves around one family’s struggle to deal with the after-effects of the 1980s South African-Angolan bush war. David Smit (Stian Bam), the main character, was a soldier in the war but now, 20 years later, is married, has a grown-up son and works for a security/guarding company. He still suffers from post-traumatic syndrome and has a terrible relationship with his son Dap (Edwin van der Walt). Dap resents David’s absence over the years and is critical of his father’s participation in an “apartheid-fuelled” war. But something strange begins to happen to Dap: he starts having dreams about David’s role in the war and even appears in the scenes alongside his father. It is through these dreams that Dap learns to understand how much his father loves him, and how much the man went through in combat.

So many aspects of the war’s portrayal and its resultant effects rang true for me. David worked in Iraq after the bush war before becoming a bodyguard in South Africa, not unusual for a former soldier in this country. The war scenes accurately depict assault-rifle gunfire, “black-is-beautiful” face cover up, Afrikaans and English speaking soldiers, Black and White men, Portuguese soldiers who had defected to the South African side, helicopter drops and the African bush. David’s PTS manifests as hypersensitivity to gunfire-type noises, anxiety, insomnia, anger and confusion, again not uncommon in former soldiers. I quizzed my husband, a bush war soldier himself, after the movie. His answer: “It sounds like my life.”

Although the war was obviously firmly grounded in politics My Father’s War manages to remain unpolitical. It is a film about people and one viewers from different sides of the political spectrum will watch and appreciate. One negative: I found the home scenes just a little too angst ridden. Other than that, My Father’s War is a touching, extremely well-made, sensitive and brave movie.

My Father’s War releases at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 5 August 2016. It is rated 10PG.

Two films that made me think

Two film reviews by Brenda Daniels

That Sugar Film

Do you remember Super Size Me, the 2004 film that featured Morgan Spurlock eating only McDonald’s food for a month? In that documentary-style movie the vices of fat, particularly trans-fats in food, are exposed. Spurlock experiences weight-gain, liver problems, lethargy and nausea. That Sugar Film, released in South Africa on 31 July 2015, follows the same format, with a similar outcome for experimenter Damon Gameau, only this time it’s sugar that is the enemy. And the low-fat diet.

The low-fat diet, promoted for decades as the healthy way to eat, is responsible for added sugar in processed food, the film contends. This is because food still needs to taste good. In order to keep the food tasting good once the fat is removed, sugar is added. That Sugar Film’s proposed solution is that we go back to fat and cut out the sugar. Tim Noakes of Banting fame will be pleased.

I rushed home after seeing this film and read the ingredient lists on my cereals and instant meals. I was horrified to see how much sugar was in them. But I was also left feeling confused. Is fat in or out? Is sugar really all that bad?

I’m no nutritionist so feel unqualified to say for certain. But, whilst I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon and vilify sugar, I think the sensible thing to do is cut out processed foods as far as possible and cook from scratch. That way I can control the amount of sugar and fat I add.

Woman in Gold

Woman in Gold is another interesting film released in South Africa on 31 July 2015. It features the true story of Maria Altmann, a Jewish victim of World War II’s Nazi Germany. Before Maria and her husband escaped the regime for America, the Altmann family’s wealth in the form of jewellery, ornaments and artworks were confiscated.

Woman in Gold, by artist Gustav Klimt, was among them. After the war the painting became famous Austrian property and grew to be synonymous with that country’s national identity. More than 50 years after the war reparations to war victims were initiated in Europe. This is where the Woman in Gold story begins. Maria (Helen Mirren) enlists the help of a friend’s lawyer son, Randy Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds), and the pair pursue the return of Woman in Gold to its rightful owner.

There were some elements of this film I did not like. Its Hollywood flavour, its intimation that justice can be found only in the USA, the unbelievable passion displayed by the lawyer, and the indisputable monetary attraction of the value the painting: several hundred million dollars.

What did give me food for thought, however, was the parallels Maria’s story draws with reparations to victims of apartheid in South Africa. At one point in the film, Randy asks why Maria is concerned about something that happened so long ago. Her response: “And you think 50 years is a long time?” Likewise, 50 years is not a long time for casualties of apartheid, real people who lost possessions, land and homes.

That Sugar Film and Woman in Gold are on at Cinema Nouveau countrywide.

Plot for Peace, a sobering film about Apartheid

A review by Brenda Daniels

The opening and closing scenes of Plot for Peace are those of Algerian-born Frenchman, Jean-Yves Ollivier, playing cards. Ollivier begins his story by explaining that when Algeria won its independence, three million white people, Ollivier’s family included, were forced to leave that country.

This seemingly affected Ollivier to the extent that when he involved himself in Southern African politics many years later he strove to broker a peace that precluded the fallout of whole groups of people. And so, while Mandela and the ANC within South Africa worked towards the end of Apartheid that would result in the “rainbow nation”, Ollivier, an unrelated and “mysterious Frenchman”, was working outside South Africa with a similar view in mind.

His involvement included brokering communication between six Southern African nations during the war-torn 1980s. Countries that were backed by the USA or communist Russia and involved in wars in Angola, Mozambique and South West Africa.

Plot for Peace is a riveting film. The complicated nature of the material and the French with English subtitles make it fairly difficult to watch. While aspects of Apartheid and our country’s complex past are now common knowledge, Plot for Peace shows the foreign forces that were at play in this confusing game of politics.

I found it enlightening, educational and very, very sobering.

Jean-Yves Ollivier photographed in Oslo. Photo: Johnny Vaet Nordskog

Jean-Yves Ollivier photographed in Oslo. Photo: Johnny Vaet Nordskog

Plot for Peace is the fourth DIFF film I’ve watched since the opening of the festival on 17 July 2014.

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