SA Film Tornado and the Kalahari Horse Whisperer is worth seeing

2009-04-12 00:00

REGARDT van den Berg directs this South African film, which is worth watching on four accounts.

The first is that the film is visually interesting, shot on the vast landscapes of the Kalahari. The second is, it’s based on a true story, which gives the plot some weight. The third is that this film showcases a group of South African actors who will be largely unfamiliar to big screen audiences and they are talented, interesting people. And the fourth is that it’s South African, and I for one would rather watch a locally produced feature film that carries a measure of thought and effort in its presentation than some bumph shipped in from elsewhere.

Tornado is the story of a depressed young man called Pierre (Quentin Krog) and a tormented horse who end up in the Kalahari together under the fatherly figure of horse whisperer and pastor Barrie Burger (Danny Keogh). The leathery old farmer soon has the young city slicker ploughing through a list of chores on the farm. While the plot immediately evokes comparisons with The Horse Whisperer and The Karate Kid, it’s reassuring to know the scriptwriters and Van den Berg are aware of this, poking fun at the parallel with young Pierre’s quip: “Yes, Mr Miyagi”.

There’s little else in the plot, besides the love interest (Lean van den Berg — the director’s daughter) and the peripheral issue of Pierre’s studies.

Interestingly, the most engaging actors are those without any formal training — Lean van den Berg and Danny Keogh. Van den Berg has a strong presence on screen, superseded only by Keogh, who was initially a stage manager for Barney Simon. They both upstage the main character of Pierre, who needed a bit more emotion from Quentin Krog in the climaxing scenes to counter a lot of screen time in which being introverted.

On the whole, though, it works. The film’s focus is on the themes — healing and restoration. It’s a story in which healing is sought through no-strings-attached friendship and trust. On that note is the main criticism: the film makes its point largely by labouring the slow motion shots of Kashmir, the stallion that charmed all the actors and crew on set. While it’s beautifully filmed and the horse is extraordinary, it’s a lengthy exercise for audience members with attention deficit disorder. To say it in the harshest way possible, Tornado is a drawn-out drama. But in the midst of the vastness of the Kalahari landscape and any wavering attention span, there are some weighty simple truths that provide an oasis.

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