‘The Harvesters’

the harvestersA stark, red-neck Christian Bible-belt story, Afrikaans-style.

In his directorial debut, Etienne Kallos’ powerful feature, set in the vast isolated open spaces of the Free State, looks to the threatened demise of an Afrikaan way of life. A quiet, brooding 15-year old Janno (Brent Vermeulen) and his position in his deeply religious farming family is threatened by the adoption of a troubled (Afrikaan) street boy (Alex van Dyk).

In spite of the threat, there is an understated intimacy between the two as separately and together they fight to find/retain their place in an environment where the mother follows God’s will and is fervent in her belief in salvation for the unsaveable.

Austere, shot with the muted colours of early winter, a minimal score and nuanced performances create a restrained yet simmering drama of quiet intensity.

Rating: 76%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

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‘Dear Son’

Dear_SonA Tunisian domestic drama that evolves into a desperate search by elderly parents as their only child disappears from school days before his final exam.

A quiet, unassuming film that focuses on the everyday – the pressures at school, a father approaching retirement – until Sami disappears without warning to join ISIS in Syria.

Director Mohamed Ben Attia (Hedi) avoids action and melodrama in following Sami, instead electing to stay with the secular parents Mohamed Dhrif and Mouna Mejri as they come to terms with the impact of their son’s actions. It’s a (little too) slow, intimate yet dignified film, as much an exploration of family relationships as it is a pertinent narrative of jihadism and newspaper headline importance.

Rating: 53%

Screened as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival

‘Queen of the Desert’

qotd_posterA somewhat episodic telling of the fascinating story of Gertrude Bell, the Arabian explorer and adventurer who provided insight into the complexities of the region in the early 20th century.

Director Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu the Vampyre) has chosen to simply chronicle Bell’s story (competently played by Nicole Kidman – The Others, Moulin Rouge) resulting in a sumptuous but vapid sweep of the desert. And why focus on Bell’s relationship with men considering everything she achieved?

Rating: 35%