WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
In the Free State, isolated stronghold to the Afrikaans white ethnic minority culture, the conservative farming territory’s men are obsessed with toughness and masculinity. Janno is different—secretive and emotionally frail. One day, his mother, a fiercely religious woman, brings a hardened street orphan home and asks Janno to make this stranger his brother. The two boys begin a feud over parental affection, power, and heritage.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
From a standing ovation at the 71st annual Cannes Films Festival to winning the award for best cinematography at the eighth annual kykNET Silwerskerm Film Festival – The Harvesters (Die Stropers) is a South African cinematic masterpiece.
Cape Town-born writer and director Etienne Kallos dives fearlessly into themes like identity and sexuality within the Afrikaner culture – both subjects which are often taboo within the conservative Christian Afrikaans community.
As a young Afrikaner growing up within the same strict constraints of a traditionalist community I could deeply relate to the film’s exploration of an environment predominantly steered by fear. Fear of stepping out of line, fear of failure, fear of being yourself, fear of speaking up, fear of God.
Scarce dialogue and silence are stretched out through long moody scenes that are beautifully composed to capture intimate moments. In some scenes the soft and melancholic cinematography by Michal Englert is left to complete the narrative not explored by the characters themselves. This so accurately lays bare the Achilles heel of the Afrikaner – their lack of willingness to confront their own demons. Not addressing certain subject matters and wilfully avoiding others is characteristic of the type of small-town mentality.
Barren landscapes and vast openness throughout the film highlights the isolation caused by a community that refuses to budge from its archaic views on topics like race, masculinity, and sexuality.
Gripping performances by young actors Brent Vermeulen (Janno) and Alex van Dyk (Pieter) cement the achievements of this fantastic film that deserves all the accolades that come its way.
A conservative Afrikaans audience will likely shy away from the film’s truthful and often brutal uncovering of its own shortcomings, whilst a younger more open-minded generation will find solace in exactly that.
For those outside the community it will be an insightful look at the conservative side of this extremely close-gated group’s most inner-workings. The Harvesters is a frightfully beautiful coming-of-age story that bravely dares to escape the confines of its own subject matter – making it a must-watch.