WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
In Stroomop we meet five females who are all literally swimming upstream in their lives and for various reasons they decide to go on a river rafting adventure. During this adventure, the raft capsizes and the guide is lost, they are left having to survive in the wild, not realising yet that through their own different realities and life-experiences they have already acquired the skills to overcome thís experience. In the process they find friendship, they find their own individual voices and strengths and as they overcome these challenges out in the middle of nowhere and find their way out they find answers and gain the strength and belief in themselves to survive and overcome all the obstacles in their own lives.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
Want a women-led local film that’s not a rom-com for Women’s Day? Luckily for everyone who really can’t watch another ‘will-they-won’t-they’ scenario that’s somehow packaged as a ‘girl power’ message, Stroomop is a powerful drama about women helping women, even if they don’t really want it. Surprisingly this captivating story comes from the rom-com king and queen themselves –Ivan Botha (director and writer) and DonnaLee Roberts (starring and writer).
Through the eyes of fivewomen who under other circumstance would never hang out, the film covers women’s insecurities, their trauma and the strength they find within themselves when faced with extreme adversity.
Five women from a therapy group – all with various dilemmas – go on an adventure retreat on the advice of their therapist. The doctor (Roberts) refusing to open up is dealing with post-traumatic stress, the wife and mother (Chanelle De Jager) is feeling overwhelmed with life, the hardcore lawyer (Ilse Klink) wants to reconnect with her estranged daughter (Carla Classen) and a perfectionist (Simone Nortman) is learning to not be afraid of the unknown.
A big part of the film takes place on the Orange River, a daunting filming process where it took hours to get to their shooting location, while all the actresses performed their own stunts on the water. The river serves as a big, in-your-face metaphor for swimming upstream against what people and society expect from you, which might make you seem stubborn but in the long run makes you stronger.
The characters not only go through a test of physical strength, but also one where they learn to accept their faults and draw power from other supportive women. The correlation drawn between that and the river might seem a bit on the nose at the beginning, but it ends up being the perfect setting to bring out that inner beauty that women shine when the world is trying to shut them out.
Any woman, and even some men, will find a relation to at least one of the women’s experiences. Who hasn’t felt pressure to look a certain way, defined their worth by another’s affection or suffered immeasurable loss that becomes unbearable. Botha may be a man, but the male gaze is so far from Stroomop that you could be mistaken that it was directed by a woman. It’s pretty clear that his fiancée probably directed him onto the right path as writing partner on the script. The emotional intensity of each character’s journey is well-thought out, and you’re not left with any strings at the end.
The actress that impressed me the most was De Jager and her portrayal of a woman trying to be the perfect wife. She perfectly encapsulated a woman putting on a brave face but breaking on the inside whenever she sees herself in the mirror. She calls everyone else out on their drama, but struggles to take her own advice. Self-acceptance is her biggest hurdle, and you can see the effort they put into building her character.
I was also surprised by their portrayal of Nortmann’s Vivian – a woman suffering from heartbreak and depression. The writers stayed far away from the stereotypes of people suffering from a lack of serotonin, and instead gave the audience a bubbly person that at first appears like the damsel in distress, but ends up becoming the hero of her own story.
Stroomop is something new in the Afrikaans genre, where few movies have a cast dominated by women. It’s a good South African film that localises every-day struggle, and you don’t have to be Afrikaans to draw inspiration from the story.
Now all we need is some more South African women directors.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: